Read The Return of the Native
I was recently re-watching Harry Potter and wondered if Alan Rickman had ever read an audiobook. In my search I found a reading of Thomas Hardy’s The Return of the Native. I had never read anything from Hardy. Although it was slow to get going, it got to a point where you both want to turn away, whilst at the same time read on to find out what happens.

With the setting in the heath, I was left thinking about Wuthering Heights and the way that the landscape becomes something of a haunting character throughout. Although there are no ghosts, there are references to Eustacia as a witch. There are also some traumatic deaths.

One of the things that I found intriguing was the setting in Egdon Heath and occupations, such as the reddleman and furze cutter. I am not sure if I read them as extremes based on the distance of time? Like, was Diggory Venn symbolically meant to represent the devil? This strangeness also comes out with his ability to appear all of the sudden all the time? I was left wondering how these things would have been read at the time?

Originally released in serial form, I was left wondering what it might be like to forcibly read a novel of this sort over that period, especially on the train.

Read https://www.uqp.com.au/books/pig-city-10th-anniversary-edition
Andrew Stafford the place and politics that laid the foundation to the music scene Brisbane music scene between 1975 and 2005.

Review published here.

“” in The last time I saw Grant – Griffith Review ()

Marginalia

‘Here,’ writes Rod McLeod, ‘in a city practically under police curfew, you fucked and fought, got stoned, got married, or got out of town.’1 — location: 220 ^ref-1223


This book is my attempt to document the substantial yet largely unsung contribution that Brisbane has made both to Australian popular culture and to international popular music. In doing so, I aimed to chart the shifts in musical, political and cultural consciousness that have helped shape the city’s history and identity. In its broadest sense, Pig City is the story of how Brisbane grew up. — location: 231 ^ref-8907


A gerrymander represents the drawing of electoral boundaries in a way that serves the interests of the governing party. This certainly took place in Queensland, but it was the malapportionment, which meant that one vote in the west of the state was worth up to three in Brisbane, that was the critical issue. — location: 313 ^ref-21745


For much of the 20th century, education in Queensland was chronically neglected. Between 1919 and 1939, the textbooks in the small number of secondary schools remained unchanged; between 1924 and 1952, not a single new high school was built in Brisbane. The men ruling the state were the products of this system and the inheritors of its failings. As Peter Charlton observes, ‘It explains much of the state’s conservatism, suspicion and resistance to change.’4 It also accounts for the nickname given to Queensland by many commentators: the Deep North. — location: 326 ^ref-31412


Peter Milton Walsh: Anybody with a pulse would have felt they were trapped in a scene from In The Heat Of The Night. It was like a northern version of a southern American state; it was the cops against people who were alive. — location: 1895 ^ref-41850


This was punk’s greatest gift to Brisbane: far more crucial than any specific political refusal was the impetus that it provided to a bored youth to create its own history. — location: 1916 ^ref-19577


Living under the one roof on a diet of bread and black sauce was hardly conducive to group harmony; drinking and playing by night, no matter how good the gigs, only poisoned the cocktail further. — location: 1965 ^ref-45097


Mark Callaghan was too clever a songwriter to be stifled permanently by the breakup of the Riptides. With his new group, GANGgajang, he achieved deserved commercial success, writing a string of hits throughout the ’80s, experiencing a roughly equivalent measure of spoils and compromises along the way: the classic Sounds Of Then was even used as the soundtrack for both Coke and Channel Nine commercials. — location: 1977 ^ref-57417


Since acquiring Lindy Morrison, the band had completely deconstructed its original sound. Their music had become angular, based on shifting rhythms and tones rather than naive melodies. Robert Forster had no interest in rewriting Lee Remick, but for some time found himself unsure of which musical path to pursue: through 1980 and into 1981, by his own admission, ‘I didn’t write a really good song for two years.’ The band was practising obsessively and becoming stale. — location: 2210 ^ref-24557


Next to the albums that followed, Send Me A Lullaby, as the Go-Betweens’ debut was eventually titled, is often dismissed as amateurish and tentative. It is in fact ripe for rediscovery, making far more sense when viewed in the context of the band’s immediate post-punk peers. Still, the band was only beginning to find its feet. — location: 2242 ^ref-32483


Robert Vickers: I’d heard Send Me A Lullaby and thought it was quite different, obviously, to the early material. It was interesting, but it sounded like they were trying to work something out. So I was very happy when I heard Before Hollywood, because it was obvious that they had worked it out. It contained a lot of the melody that was in the early songs, but it was more intelligently put together. The structures of the songs were complex but also memorable, which is an almost impossible thing to do in music. — location: 2280 ^ref-4393


Not everyone appreciated the humour. Most of the station’s staff, particularly journalists, were finding themselves under increasing levels of surveillance. Some suffered the frightening experience of having their homes raided at dawn by the Special Branch. Others were subjected to more subtle means of intimidation. Amanda Collinge: I was at this Russ Hinze press conference one day, which was an eye-opener in itself, and I was approached by someone who started asking me questions that indicated he knew a hell of a lot about me. He asked me first how I was finding my lodgings at 8 Broadway Street in Red Hill. Then he asked me if my Datsun 180B was giving me a problem. And the third question was how was I managing to survive on whatever it was we were paid at Triple Zed at the time. — location: 2318 ^ref-61968


Where Midnight Oil’s Beds Are Burning spoke of ‘we’, and Archie Roach limited his own accounts of personal tragedy mainly to ‘I’, it is perhaps unsurprising that Carmody’s accusatory ‘you’ would prove too difficult for white audiences to swallow. — location: 2591 ^ref-3533


Some bands peak early. Almost all the great ones, however, take several years to hit their stride. — location: 4567 ^ref-37293

Read The Go-Betweens
David Nichols’ book on The Go-Betweens was first published in 1997. Capturing their rise in the late 70’s until their initial demise in the late 80’s. I read the third revision published in 2011, which included a postscript discussing the reforming of the band in the late nineties until McLennan’s death in 2006. My review can be found here.

Marginalia

McLENNAN: Oh; we were driving along in a car one time; going to the Exchange Hotel. We drove over the bridge there and we were just thinking of a few names and 1 think Rob came up with the Go-Betweens. Because, we since found out, we went between two types of music, maybe, or …
FORSTER: Basically there’s night and there’s day, and you try and go between that, and you find the twilight zone—and there lies the Go-Betweens. – Page 20


Brisbane’s dance clubs in the 1960s—which were generally called discotheques, though in fact they featured live groups—must have been remarkable, especially the Sound Machine, which promoter and Brisbane patriot John Reid aka “the Brisbane Devotee,” remembered ten years later as having “fluorescent posters, red and black decor, telephones on the tables so you could ring other tables.” – Page 29


To follow the kind of lifestyle that people in other Australian cities took for granted—going out for the night, hearing a few rock bands who played music relevant to your world, drinking—was infused, in Brisbane, with a special kind of danger. The police could arrest you at any time, and effectively they could do what they wanted with you. – Page 30


Forster recalled that McLennan “was carrying a film mag and a Ry Cooder record” when they first met. “The film mag I approved of, the Ry Cooder record I was cool on.”

This kind of cultural flag-waving was a legitimate way to make friends in Brisbane in the late 1970s, according to Robert Vickers, who moved in the same circles as Forster and McLennan.

ROBERT VICKERS: If you walked down the street with a Nico album, and somebody who was interested in Nico saw you, they would probably stop. Oh. definitely, without a doubt. You really did judge people quite quickly by their tastes and that was very important. And you needed other people to be involved. Just someone to share it with. And if you did see someone walking down the street with a Nico album or Big Star 3, that was enough. If you saw someone on a train even dressed in a certain way, you might talk to them. – Page 38


McLennan has often characterized his relationship with Forster as a nonsexual homosexuality:

McLENNAN: We were in Queensland, which is a very macho state, and Brisbane symbolizes everything which is disgusting about Queensland. We were pushed together at university in our foppish attitudes towards theater as well. – Page 40


FORSTER: I’d been extremely successful at school; at school, I found a lot more freedom than later at university. I could do anything I wanted at school. It was a lot more creative, a lot more satisfying, a lot weirder, if you like. Which I thrived on. And as soon as I got into university and started handing in assignments, I was called aside and told, “If you want to do creative writing, we have little courses… but we don’t want creative writing.” And of course this is the way I’d written through school. And got good grades. I used to hand in schoolwork with photos. I’d take photos a lot. At university you were supposed to hand in a paper. I handed it in in a box—a cardboard box. It was rejected. And so there was a bad spiral. From being the schoolboy genius, I go to university and become the town dunce. – Page 41


MCLENNAN: At the end of 1977 he rang up and said, “You’re finishing [university], have you changed your mind, do you want to start a band?” And I said yes.
You know, it was: “Why not?” It wasn’t like: “Oh, yeah, let’s get a band together!”
It was just: Why not?” – Page 42


VICKERS: It was certainly perfect for the time. It had columns, wooden columns, all through it; you were always up against a post. It looked like there were walls everywhere that had been taken down except for the uprights. A little tiny stage, and you couldn’t see anyone playing onstage because everyone could stand up front. You couldn’t hear anything—but you were there. – Page 46

Recalling the Curry Shop in Brisbane


To be a go-between was far from a negative role in McLennan and Forster’s eyes. They were in between so many places, swamped by a cultural flood. While they faced the reality of Brisbane, the heat, parental pressure, and the influence of punk rock, they also yearned for New York in the 1960s and 1970s, Paris in the 1920s and 1950s, and were fascinated by Timothy Leary Bob Dylan, Tom Verlaine, Françoise Hardy, Samantha Eggar, Richard Hell, Blondie, and the Erasers. All of this was siphoned through a strange, anomalous Brisbane rock group called the Go-Betweens. – Page 52


PETER WALSH: They’d never say it, but you could tell which part of the record collection he’d listened to in the two minutes it took for him to write that song. – Page 60


FORSTER: Grant and I used to look at products. As a game, I’d go round the kitchen and pick up something like Vegemite. And we’d rattle off five or ten advertising slogans. Products around the kitchen. We were flying! We thought we were geniuses. The band was always the flagship: “If the band becomes famous, everyone’s going to be interested in these ideas. We’ve got to get famous.” The group was the get-famous thing—once that happened, we could go. ‘‘Surprise, surprise, everybody, yeah, we’re pop stars but we’ve got all these other ideas and we’re goddamn flickin’ geniuses. You thought you were only getting two moptop pop stars, what you’re getting is Truffaut and Godard! We’re the Orson Welles of rock.” It didn’t happen. – Page 70


MICHAEL O’CONNELL: John Willsteed virtually showed Lindy Morrison how to play the drums. In the performing process the spotlight was mainly on Irena and myself. – Page 79

Michael O’Connell on Zero


MORRISON: We went to Stradbroke Island for a Zero gig and we had our first fuck, and he was so overcome by losing his virginity and the joy of sex, that he went for a walk down to the beach and he didn’t return in time to get the bus back. I went back to Brisbane on the bus and he had to stay overnight, didn’t have any money, had to sleep on the beach. We all went back on the bloody bus which he missed because he wandered off to contemplate nature and the mysteries of the universe—because he’d had his first fuck. I didn’t hear from him for three days. Here I am. I’d finally got his pants off, and—the bloody guy—as soon as he does it he disappears down the beach and when he finally gets back to Brisbane doesn’t even ring me for three days! – Page 83


FORSTER: We arrived in London with acoustic guitars. We were the first people walking around London with them … this is late ’79. You could virtually be booked and put in jail for having an acoustic guitar. I don’t know who the last people were in London who had acoustic guitars or played acoustic songs to A&R people. They just thought we were completely nuts. They’d say “Oh, yeah. Send us a demo tape.” We’d go, “We don’t have a demo tape, we’ve got our acoustic guitars, we’ll come and play you some songs.”
I thought it was fantastic. Completely immediate. You can see that they play, they’re sitting on two chairs and they’re playing you the songs. If I was an A&R person I’d think: “I wish every band would come and do this.” But we were just laughed at. No one was interested. We went to Virgin. We went to Rough Trade and played “People Say” for Geoff Travis and he said “It’s too commercial.” I was just: “Whai does ihai mean? ” Too commercial? You just kept running up against these orthodoxies. ‘”No, you have to sound like the Gang of Four. You have to sound like the Fall. You have to sound sort of scrapey and scrappy, [with] the lyric way down in the mix.”
They thought it wouldn’t fit into what was going on. We arrived at a good moment and a bad moment. We only had half a dozen good songs in 197S. So if we’d gone over then, we would’ve— whatever time we’d gone over, it would’ve been the wrong time, we wouldn’t have been able to fit in. You know the week that “Lee Remick” came out? If we’d been there that week, it would have done really well. We would have been famous. Then. In England. – Page 85


Forster said, “In Brisbane, musically, we’re [enrolled] in a school, but we’re just doing it by correspondence, and then suddenly you go over to London and you’re actually at the college.” – Page 86


Dave Tyrer, Forster explained, ‘’has a Roland guitar synthesizer.” And, he continued, “Grant will be joining us, playing bass, when he gets back from New York.” – Page 97

There are so many aspects to the Go-Betweens story where one is left thinking ‘what if’, I can only imagine that a guitar synthesiser would have changed their sound.


MORRISON: I cooked this fabulous Christmas dinner, and half an hour before Christmas dinner everybody hit up. So when Christmas dinner came, nobody could eat. And everyone was just sitting around, the gravy was congealing in thick lumps over the chicken, the green vegetables were going stiff and the potato was hard. And the plates just sat there all day, it was a tragedy. It was that constant “straight” thing, that constant thing that I was very straight, and I could never move in that other world. Well, I didn’t want to. I didn’t need to. – Page 120


But although they were relieved, the group were determined to trust their instincts on their next release, and to return to the kind of music that had originally influenced them, rather than follow the rhythmic or fractured “art” influences that punctuated Send Me a Lullaby. – Page 121


The days ‘before Hollywood” were adventurous times. Before the era of sound; films could be made without the hindrance of language differences, in Europe, the USA or Australia (for which claims have been made, with some justification, as the birthplace of the feature film). The ruined European economy after the First World War gave Hollywood the boost it needed to cement its grip on film production; some loose parallels can be drawn with the music business and its perceived domination by Americans. The Go-Betweens, however, with their love and respect for the Monkees, Dylan, the Velvets, Jonathan Richman, etc., would be the last to criticize American cultural domination. – Page 121


There is obviously no love lost between McLennan and Morrison, but he pays her the tribute of conceding that “Cattle and Cane” “had a great rhythm, which I don’t think any drummer the world could have played except Lindy Morrison. Never ceases to amaze me, that rhythm thing.” – Page 124


The album is certainly very different from Send Me a Lullaby. Musically, it is closer to the work of Forster and McLennnan’s earlier heroes, such as Television. Lyrically, songs like the poignant “Dusty in Here” and “Cattle and Cane” (both McLennan compositions) initiated an approach, usually perceived as one of innocent sentimentality and nostalgia, that the group would still be embracing (and ultimately perverting) at the end of the decade. – Page 125


MCLENNAN: With “Cattle and Cane” I wanted to write an autobiographical song, and I was aware of that, and I say in the lyrics “Memory wastes.” That’s perhaps a little clever, but memory can be a wasteland where you wander around and live the rest of your life. – Page 126

Grant McLennan in an interview with Clinton Walker in 1982.


In keeping with McLennan and Forster’s “McCartney and Lennon” dynamic, Forster’s songs are far more bombastic, particularly the title track, “By Chance” – Page 129


NICHOLS: The big thing with Postcard seemed to be all these comparisons with the Velvet Underground. How do you think you fitted in with that?
McLENNAN: I don’t know. I know NME said that Josef K were the Velvets [in] 1967 and that Orange Juice were Velvets ’69. If we were anything, the Go-Betweens were the Velvets at their first rehearsal. Not quite grasping the songs, but the initial draw was there. – Page 142


NICHOLS: It’s [Send Me a Lullaby] not as coherent as the second one. Some songs don’t exactly fit together. I thought it was strange the way you chopped it up for Australian consumption. – Page 142


MCLENNAN: Keith saw me as being a more commercial writer than he was. I think that’s unfair, because Robert’s melodies you just have to absorb more than mine, that’s all. – Page 143


I think Robert Forster has the capacity to sing a song in a variety of ways. I sing it in a way that is always close to the heart. It’s a very intangible thing, I can’t explain it in any other way. – Page 146


McLennan’s “This Girl, Black Girl”—probably the first of his Go-Betweens songs to take on the Australian bush-ballad form that has since become a favored style for him – Page 148


[T]he Go-Betweens would. But the Go-Betweens were trying to flourish within a foreign culture—one they couldn’t tap into in the way Morrissey, to their evident frustration, apparently effortlessly could. – Page 151


I have agreed to donate all my interview tapes and other research materials to the National Film and Sound Archive (maybe writing this sentence will make me finally knuckle down to the task of fishing the tapes out from under the house). – Page 271

Read Syd Barrett: A Very Irregular Head

One day in the summer of 2006 I learned that Syd had died. I phoned Mojo and asked if I could write the obituary piece. ‘Yes please,’ said the editor. ‘But we go to press in five days. Can you do 5,000 words by Friday?’ If it had been anybody else it would have been a chore, but I’d lived and breathed and dreamed Syd’s music since that twelve-year-old me first heard ‘Arnold Layne’. And so in the hottest week of that long hot summer I sat and wrote 5,000 words about Syd. Here’s another 140,000 to go with them.

Growing up, I had a friend who was obsessed with Pink Floyd. He learnt all the licks. He would play along to every track. Once, in a time before online shopping, we drove for an hour to buy a Syd Barrett boxset. There was always an aura around Barrett and his genius. I was therefore intrigued to read Rob Chapman’s book. I saw it come up in Faber’s Greatest Hits, it was also offered for free on Audible.

Chapman continues to push back on the myths around Barrett and his genius and subsequent mental collapse. Although there is no denying that drugs played a significant part in Barrett’s life, however there were also other aspects that influenced things. Chapman makes comparisons with the lives and works of other creatives, Edward Lear and Kenneth Grahame, Lewis Carroll, who each in their own way suffered a lose that hung over them and influenced their art. Chapman also explores the difference in personalities and desires with the other members of Pink Floyd. With this in mind, success may not have been his thing. While in the end, for many during that time, madness offered up a way of being.

The stories that emulate around Barrett buying thirty guitars, living it up in a hotel or chasing down an airplane on the tarmac reminds me in some ways of stories that often surround Daniel Johns. So often there is a desire for such enigmas to fit a particular mold. However, I guess this may overlook their own desire of who they might want to be.

Read 2006 novel by Cormac McCarthy by Contributors to Wikimedia projects

Inspired by The Partially Examined Life’s investigation of Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian, I re-read the book. I remember by left in both shock and awe at the book when I first read it, but the podcast really helped elucidate what makes the text special for me, particularly the idea of landscape as a character and the contradictory nature of characters such as The Judge. This lead me to reading The Road.

I had never seen the film nor read The Road in the past. To be honest, even though I had heard of it, I did not really know what it was about before starting the journey. It is interesting, I am not sure if I would have read the book based on the summary:

A father and his young son journey on foot across the post-apocalyptic ash-covered United States some years after an extinction event. The boy’s mother, pregnant with him at the time of the disaster, committed suicide some time before.

Realizing they cannot survive the winter in more northern latitudes, the father takes the boy south along interstate highways towards the sea, carrying their meager possessions in their knapsacks and a supermarket cart. The father is suffering from a cough. He assures his son that they are “good guys” who are “carrying the fire”. The pair have a revolver, but only two rounds. The father has tried to teach the boy to use the gun on himself if necessary, to avoid falling into the hands of cannibals.

Source: The Road – Wikipedia

However, the destination does not always seem that important with McCarthy.

Initially, I was left wondering what had happened to the world that McCarthy’s novel traverses. However, it is soon made clear that it is not really the point. I guess when the whole world catches fire that you might not even know the cause is.

What seems to matter is what it means to exist in a world merely focused on survival. What does it mean to be ‘one of the good ones’ in a world where many have to cannibalism to survive?

“There is no God and we are his prophets.”

In part, the book feels like it is about the future and the threat of global warming, but it also feels like it is about the present. Although I have only read two McCarthy books, I feel different after them.

Bookmarks

McCarthy’s is an elemental voice. In his voice I hear stone shifting, glaciers cracking open, trees moaning in the wind. The ancient cadences of his prose take on an almost otherworldly quality, a quality that transports you. I’m constantly in awe of the language and recognizing how he’s putting together his sentences so exquisitely.

Source: Cormac McCarthy’s The Road May Have the Scariest Passage in All of Literature by Joe Fassler

Though McCarthy’s not afraid to stare into the abyss, he seems to also carefully consider his use of violence. When I’m reading someone like Chuck Palahniuk, I often feel he’s titillated by a kind of gorenography. He’s writing violence in a way that feels excessive and part of some carnival sideshow meant to make people slap their knees and guffaw horribly. When I look at The Road, or a book like Blood Meridian, McCarthy describes every terrible thing that a mind could conjure. But he’ll also pull back. He’ll allow some violence to take place off stage, because he knows unseen acts can be as brutal and affecting as violence that’s shown—perhaps more so.

Source: Cormac McCarthy’s The Road May Have the Scariest Passage in All of Literature by Joe Fassler

Joe Fassler explains that what makes McCarthy’s so powerful is his avoidance ‘gorenography’ by leaving so much of the violence off the stage.


The Road is neither parable nor science fiction, however, and fundamentally it marks not a departure but a return to McCarthy’s most brilliant genre work, combined in a manner we have not seen since Blood Meridian: adventure and Gothic horror.

Source: After the Apocalypse | Michael Chabon by Michael Chabon


The existence of a moral structure—the will to do good—is the soaring discovery hidden in McCarthy’s scourged planet.

Source: Cormac McCarthy’s new masterpiece. by Jennifer Egan


The way McCarthy sails close to the prose of late Beckett is also remarkable; the novel proceeds in Beckett-like, varied paragraphs. They are unlikely relatives, these two artists in old age, cornered by bleak experience and the rich limits of an English pulverised down through despair to a pleasingly wry perfection.

Source: Review: The Road by Cormac McCarthy by Alan Warner

SamuelBeckett #TheRoad #CormacMcCarthy


Which is to say that, deny it as we like, all of our effort and creativity in this world implies an orientation toward some transcendent place or mind outside this world; that human consciousness suggests a superhuman correlate; that, adapting Nietzsche, to believe in grammar is to believe in God. Following from this premise of a link between human and divine creativity, McCarthy inquires what will become of humanity if all of its efforts come to grief, if the divine security is thereby invalidated? On this question, The Road runs both ways: how can the last survivors of the doomed human race retain faith either in itself or in God?

Source: Cormac McCarthy’s The Road by John Pistelli

It is to inquire about what purpose our activities have at all, however mixed and marred by violence or oppression they are.

Source: Cormac McCarthy’s The Road by John Pistelli

The only thing in this world that is divine is us, or, more specifically, whatever in us rises above the merely reasonable. Reason can do nothing but perceive and manipulate the already-given, by definition evil in this evil world, but the divine spark preserves the irrational goodness and beauty of the true Lord.

Source: Cormac McCarthy’s The Road by John Pistelli


McCarthy is seemingly less interested in exploring the causes of this mass extinction event and its immediate aftermath choosing instead to focus on the dynamic relationship between a father and his son. This relationship, and the uniquely human traits that are exemplified within its bounds, stand in stark contrast to the primeval immorality of the other survivors they encounter on the road.

Source: The%20Road%20-%20Cormac%20McCarthy%20(2006) by Matt Burgess


McCarthy does not say how or when God entered this man’s being and his son’s, nor does he say how or why they were chosen to survive together for 10 years, to be among the last living creatures on the road. But the tale is as biblical as it is ultimate, and the man implies that the end has happened through godly fanaticism. The world is in a nuclear winter, though that phrase is never used. The lone allusion to our long-prophesied holy war with its attendant nukes is when the man thinks: “On this road there are no godspoke men. They are gone and I am left and they have taken with them the world.”

Source: Review: ‘The Road,’ by Cormac McCarthy by William Kennedy


Although, as expected, the Father makes all pragmatic decisions concerning survival, the Boy is the clear authority on morality, persuading the father to preserve a charitable spirit in McCarthy’s amoral wasteland. He is the bringer of light in the darkness, the embodiment of “carrying the fire” (p. 234).

Source: Survival and Morality in Cormac McCarthy’s The Road: Exploring Aquinian Grace and the Boy as Messiah by Carla M. Sanchez

Read My Rock ‘n’ Roll Friend by Tracey Thorn – Canongate Books

In 1983, backstage at the Lyceum in London, Tracey Thorn and Lindy Morrison first met. Tracey’s music career was just beginning, while Lindy, drummer for The Go-Betweens, was ten years her senior. They became confidantes, comrades and best friends, a relationship cemented by gossip and feminism, books and gigs and rock ’n’ roll love affairs.
Thorn takes stock of thirty-seven years of friendship, teasing out the details of connection and affection between two women who seem to be either complete opposites or mirror images of each other. She asks what people see, who does the looking, and ultimately who writes women out of – and back into – history.

I wrote my review of My Rock n Roll Friend here.

Marginalia

You looked like confidence ran in your veins. You looked like self-belief in a mini dress, the equal of anyone. LOCATION: 94

I know you remember that day too, but maybe you don’t know what it meant to me, what so much of our friendship meant to me: how you were a friend to me, but also a symbol. LOCATION: 131

Ambition and enthusiasm had set the motor running, but it had been a longer and harder slog than any of them had imagined. They’d come close a couple of times, but things hadn’t panned out, and success had proved elusive, while critical acclaim came easily. LOCATION: 170

Somehow I was instinctively picking up vibrations which told me that this woman was someone, that she had a story, that she herself was the news. LOCATION: 281

For an obsessive personality type like Lindy, the drums are both exciting and soothing. LOCATION: 317

Gerard Lee’s debut, True Love and How to Get It, where she is thinly disguised as the character Megaton Monroe LOCATION: 336

The two private schoolboys met and made friends at university in 1977, and their first scene together in this story is a real meet cute: Grant’s got three records under his arm, which are Ian Hunter’s debut album, Ry Cooder’s Paradise and Lunch, and Jackson Browne’s Late for the Sky, while Robert is in thrall to Bob Dylan, Roxy Music, David Bowie and the Velvet Underground. They recognise in each other two typical nerdy boys, both studying literature and drama. Grant has a room full of film magazines, and neither of them are attracted to the aggressive machismo of Brisbane punk. Instead, they’re into Patti Smith, Tom Verlaine and Jonathan Richman, and when Robert starts to write songs they reveal a pop sensibility filtered through an academic lens. LOCATION: 377

If Robert meeting Grant was all about kindred spirits and mutual identification, then the meeting of Robert and Lindy is an attraction of opposites. He reciprocates her interest, he can feel the tug of the magnet, and they start circling each other. LOCATION: 397

Years later, when their relationship is shattering and dissolving, he will write a song called ‘Head Full of Steam’, and when they play it live on UK television on The Old Grey Whistle Test, he’s added a few lines that don’t appear on the album version: ‘Steam may rise / Steam may tear / Can I come to your place / Can I wash your hair.’ At the time, Lindy tells me those lines refer to an actual event, which is precious in both their memories, and I feel in possession of secret information, privy to the background details which make up the vivid story of this song. LOCATION: 425

With Zero, she’s been in a politically motivated punk band, and The Go-Betweens are decidedly not punk and not political. They don’t have nicknames or slogans or haircuts. They’re not a gang or a crew. LOCATION: 435

Robert and Grant are the kind of boys who buy Playboy magazine for the Bob Dylan interview inside. They may have written that dedication to girlfriends who didn’t exist, but then they became a bit embarrassed about it and decided they wanted a female drummer. LOCATION: 454

They feel that a woman might soften the band. And it’s hard not to laugh at the fact that they end up with Lindy, who is more ballsy than either of them, full of heart and emotion, yes, but about as soft as a decisive right hook. She’s never going to fit in with their fantasies of a chic little French girl, and she’s not going to be Edie Sedgwick, and she’s not going to revere Dylan like they do without asking some tough questions. LOCATION: 461

It is Lindy, Robert and Grant who are the original Go-Betweens. It is their band. In the future they might get in backing singers, or keyboard players, or violinists, or sax soloists, or a full-blown bloody orchestra, but the essence remains. They are a classic trio, whatever anyone might say later. LOCATION: 485

NOTE: This reminds me of austin kleon and the discussion of the complexity of children and relationships. I remember Clint saying that the addition of … was a disaster, but maybe the addition of any forth member was always fraut

Lindy makes it her business to start organising them, honing their sound, building a working relationship. She may have lived in a lot of boho houses but her work ethic is far from hippy-ish. The rehearsal room is her province. She finds the spaces, clocks the small ads, phones up the numbers, makes the bookings. Gets them all organised and there on time, and makes them practise. Practise, practise, practise, she says. It has always been that way, since high school, when there had been a choral competition, and she’d taken it upon herself to make sure that her team would win. She’d spent every spare minute rounding up girls to come and rehearse, chivvying them along. She had been relentless. LOCATION: 494

Every week his mother makes them a fruit cake, and because they have no money and are on the dole, they live off the fruit cake. The two of them walk around all the time holding hands, and she is twenty-eight to his twenty-one, which never feels weird to her, though her family make snide remarks about cradle-snatching. The flat is in a dangerous part of town, and terrible things happen; they hear fights next door, and someone gets pushed down the stairs. They come home each evening exhausted from the practice room, and sleep in till midday, then get up, eat fruit cake, go to practise, come back and lie in bed watching TV. LOCATION: 511

That title Lindy gives them for the first album, Send Me a Lullaby, is inspired by the Zelda Fitzgerald novel Save Me the Waltz. And Zelda is an interesting source of inspiration. A woman full of creative urges struggling to find an outlet, she lived, with her husband Scott, a life of drink and carelessness, but battled continually to escape from his artistic shadow, to make something of her own. After an all-out attempt to become a professional ballet dancer ended with a breakdown and a diagnosis of schizophrenia, she was hospitalised. On her release, she took up painting, then astonished everyone by producing a novel, sending it off to a publisher without telling Scott. It represented, as the critic Elizabeth Hardwick writes, another testament to her ‘unkillable energy’. Lindy too is full of unkillable energy. An almost supernatural determination and force of will is embedded in her character, and she will need it. Zelda died in a fire at a hospital, never having achieved artistic equality with her husband. Lindy will blaze and struggle and fight for a long time to get her due. LOCATION: 546

They are so poor that they have rows about buying butter, or shampoo, or anything that might not be deemed essential. Not everyone in the house is paying their fair share of the rent, but it is only Lindy who decides to take action. LOCATION: 588

She thinks the boys don’t really know how to count their bars, and they have no real sense of timing or rhythm, so it’s left to Lindy to literally drum it into them. She is determined not to ‘play through’ the quirky patterns, and not to straighten them out. She thinks that would be too nice, too boring. Instead, when she is presented with a song like ‘Cattle and Cane’, written by Grant with a time signature that she identifies as being ‘an 11-beat phrase’, she preserves all its strangeness, all its distinctiveness. She describes her drumming as providing a kind of counterpoint, rather than a back beat, following the melody in a more lyrical way. The song is lovely in its melodic sweetness, but thanks to Lindy’s drumming it is elevated into something much more elusive – a singular piece of music, impossible to pin down. LOCATION: 709

I wouldn’t have done it, but you’ve done it for me. I think the others are being disingenuous, up on their high horses claiming the moral high ground and pretending not to be curious about the details. LOCATION: 874

We devour biographies which only exist because someone opened a box they weren’t supposed to, or read some letters and diaries they were expressly forbidden to read. We respect privacy up until the point where we want to hear the end of the story, and then we tell ourselves that the story justifies everything. Is anything out of bounds? Maybe you and I are the kind of people who can’t look away; who can’t obey an instruction not to read; who can’t resist, can’t stand back, always want to know more. I appear to be more discreet than you but in many ways I aspire to your levels of indiscretion. I’m never going to purse my lips at you disapprovingly if you’re telling me a good story. LOCATION: 903

When it comes to describing you, everyone uses the same phrase: a force of nature. I do it myself in Bedsit Disco Queen: ‘as for Lindy, well, she was a sheer force of nature, an Amazonian blonde ten years older than me, unshockable, confrontational and loud’. Your friend Marie Ryan says in the liner notes to a Go-Betweens box set: ‘She was a force of nature, brash, opinionated and loud.’ Writer Clinton Walker says: ‘Lindy, is, as we know, this force of nature, and she’s very attractive in that, you know, and she can be a FUCKING NIGHTMARE.’ Peter Walsh doesn’t use the actual phrase, but comes close: Lindy Morrison. Her great, upending, tumultuous, machine-gun laugh . . . SHE SPOKE, IF NOT LIVED, EXCLUSIVELY IN CAPSLOCK, a Klieg light in a roomful of 40 watt bulbs. Describing her quickly exhausted all possible weather metaphors. Gales of laughter, gusts of enthusiasm, a storm of personality that broke in every room. An interview in Hero magazine says: ‘Lindy Morrison is an excitable girl. Some would say volcanic.’ LOCATION: 924

And we need our women friends in order to see ourselves mirrored and validated: to counter those moments we all experience when it feels like we don’t exist in the world; when we look and can’t find ourselves; when we are erased, pushed to the margins, written out of the story; when we start to feel invisible. In these moments, our female friends are invaluable to us. They reflect and embody us out there in the world; they remind us that we’re real, that we’re here, that we’re not mad. Female friendship isn’t a cosy thing: it’s a necessity. LOCATION: 1307

Still, why would I have known much about Australia? In 1987, I’d never been there. To me, she represents Otherness. She has come from Elsewhere. In that sense, the inaccuracy is truthful. Much about her is mysterious to me, unknowable. ‘I have a friend and she taught me daring / Threw back the windows and let the air in / She taught me how to be easy too / And I had a lot of unlearning to do.’ LOCATION: 1325

It was a time when we invented ourselves in diaries and letters. Not having social media didn’t mean we were more authentic. My letters to Lindy are as stylised and performative as any Instagram account. I am often trying to be my Best Self, or what I think is my Best Self – witty and anecdotal, flippant and bitchy. I want never to be boring. It will be years before I dare to show a more vulnerable, fucked-up self to my friends, and in these letters any flashes of truth are often disguised as jokes. LOCATION: 1375

She may have needed glasses, but she never had a problem seeing. LOCATION: 1551

When I learn about the child and teen she used to be, they are not immediately recognisable to me as the Lindy I thought I knew. The uncertainty, the self-doubt, the miseries suffered over her appearance – they’re at odds with my image of her. I had formed a first impression of her as a textbook heroine: a bold adventurer, no one’s plaything, no one’s victim. But I created that myself, out of almost nothing. LOCATION: 1607

Something has happened between the act and its recording – a band which was a trio has become the story of two friends. What happened to Two Wimps and a Witch? Who decided that the witch could be written out of the history, and who was at that meeting? LOCATION: 2428

Read novel by Franco-Czech writer Milan Kundera, published in 1998 by Contributors to Wikimedia projects

Identity (French: L’Identité) is a novel by Franco-Czech writer Milan Kundera, published in 1998. Kundera moved to France in 1975. Identity is set primarily in France and was his second novel to be written in French with his earlier novels all in Czech. The novel revolves around the intimate relationship between Chantal and her marginally younger partner Jean-Marc. The intricacies of their relationship and its influences on their sense of identity brings out Kundera’s philosophical musings on identity not as an autonomous entity but something integral shaped by the identities of others and their relations to your own.

The short novel explores the idea of identity and perception through the relationship between Chantel and Jean-Marc. Central to the story is Chantel’s comment “men don’t turn to look at me anymore” and everything that stems from that.
Read Faith, Hope and Carnage – Nick Cave

Faith, Hope and Carnage is an extended conversation between Nick Cave and Observer journalist, Seán O’Hagan, who have known one another for thirty years. Created from over forty hours of intimate recordings, the book examines questions of faith, art, music, freedom, grief and love. It draws candidly on Cave’s life, from his early childhood to the present day, his loves, his work ethic and his dramatic transformation in recent years. From a place of considered reflection, Faith, Hope and Carnage offers ladders of hope and inspiration from a true creative visionary.

The audiobook, narrated by Nick Cave and Seán O’Hagan, and directed and produced by Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard, features sixteen musical codas and elements from Carnage, Skeleton Tree and Ghosteen and includes an exclusive 12-minute conversation between Nick Cave and Seán O’Hagan.

‘Astonishing… This beautiful book is a lament, a celebration, a howl, a secular prayer, a call to arms, a meditation and an exquisite articulation of the human condition. It will take your breath away.’ – Observer

‘This is a book about the freedom attained from understanding that life is precarious. Everyday carnage has brought forth a book of hope and freedom and life. *****’ – Telegraph

‘Illuminating . . . If it meets a need for Cave, it also feels like a gift to the reader’ – Sunday Times 

‘Unerringly frank, self-interrogative and insightful’ – Guardian

‘Remarkably candid . . . One of Cave’s greatest skills is to bring a secular eye to the religious and a religious eye to the secular, the sacred and the profane intertwined’ – New Statesman

‘The reveals come thick and fast, as does the wisdom. Meanwhile, the insight into Cave’s songwriting is profound, and he is thoughtful on the contrast, thematically and structurally, between then and now. *****’ – MOJO ‘Music Book of the Year’

‘Cave’s humour and insight into the human condition shine through. … Down in the darkness is a kind of consolation too.’ – Uncut

‘A book that’ll stay with you forever’ – Stylist

I wrote my review for Faith, Hope and Carnage by Nick Cave and Sean O’Hagan here.

Faith, Hope and Carnage is a meandering on and off conversation between Nick Cave and journalist, Seán O’Hagan, captured on the page through fourteen chapters. Beginning at the start of the 2020 and carrying on through to the end of 2021, Cave walks through the process of creativity as it happens, as well as reflecting upon the death of his son, grieving, life and music. It is very much a pandemic project brought about by the strange times.

“Richard Fidler” in Nick Cave and the bruises of experience – ABC Radio ()

Marginalia

In terms of what you and I are doing here, it is difficult for me to go back there, but it is also important to talk about it at some point, because the loss of my son defines me. Page 12

In terms of what you and I are doing here, it is difficult for me to go back there, but it is also important to talk about it at some point, because the loss of my son defines me. Page 12

My music began to reflect life as I saw it. Page 12

by the time we wrote Ghosteen, Warren and I were purely improvising. I would play the piano and sing, and Warren would play electronics, loops, violin and synth, with neither of us really understanding what we were doing or where we were going. We were just falling into this sound, following our hearts and our understanding of each other as collaborators, towards this newness. We spent days playing more or less non-stop. Then there were more days of sifting through it all and collecting the bits that sounded interesting. And, in some instances, that was maybe just a minute of music or a single line. After that, it was really about constructing songs from these lovely, disparate parts. Our editing process was initially akin to collage or a kind of musical assemblage. Then we’d work at building songs on top of that. Page 13

I come to the studio with loads of ideas and an enormous number of written words, most of which, by the way, are discarded. Page 14

you only need ten songs, ten beautiful and breath-taking accidents to make up a record. Page 14

the lyrics lose their concrete value and become things to play with, dismember and reorganise. I’m actually very happy to have arrived at a place where I now have an utterly ruthless relationship to my words. Page 15

The creative impulse, to me, is a form of bafflement, and often feels dissonant and unsettling. Page 16

Really, what I was aiming for on Ghosteen, though, was the creation of a single moment that was being looked at from various different points of view. I didn’t quite get there, though. Page 19

Essentially, Ghosteen rises out of that moment of peace, of calm, of simplicity, before everything shattered. It’s quite hard to explain but I think that comes close to it. Page 20

I know it’s a valuable line when my body reacts accordingly. An almost erotic enchantment – a sort of sunburst! Page 22

It seems to me that my best ideas are accidents within a controlled context. You could call them informed accidents. Page 23

Religion is spirituality with rigour, Page 25

those early Birthday Party shows were religious in their way, with all that rolling around on stage and purging of demons and speaking in tongues. Page 27

older, I have also come to see that maybe the search is the religious experience – the desire to believe and the longing for meaning, the moving towards the ineffable. Maybe that is what is essentially important, despite the absurdity of it. Or, indeed, because of the absurdity of it. When it comes down to it, maybe faith is just a decision like any other. And perhaps God is the search itself. Page 28

I think music has the ability to penetrate all the fucked-up ways we have learned to cope with this world – all the prejudices and affiliations and agendas and defences that basically amount to a kind of layered suffering – and get at the thing that lies below and is essential to us all, that is pure, that is good. The sacred essence. I think music, out of all that we can do, at least artistically, is the great indicator that something else is going on, something unexplained, because it allows us to experience genuine moments of transcendence. Page 29

sadly, organised religion can be atheism’s greatest gift. Page 30

Sometimes you need to say out loud what you think or talk to someone else about the ideas you hold, just in order to see if they are valid. It helps clarify things for me to be challenged on my beliefs. This is the essential value of conversation, that it can serve as a kind of corrective. Page 31

Perhaps, but rational truth may not be the only game in town. I am more inclined to accept the idea of poetic truth, or the idea that something can be ‘true enough’. To me that’s such a beautiful, humane expression. Page 32

believing itself has a certain utility – a spiritual and healing benefit, regardless of the actual existence of God.. Page 33

I mean that all my songs are written from a place of spiritual yearning, because that is the place that I permanently inhabit. Page 35

God is the trauma itself. Page 36

Collective grief can bring extraordinary change, a kind of conversion of the spirit, and with it a great opportunity. Page 38

Well, that’s what it feels like with some songs. The more I’ve written, the harder it is to disregard the fact that so many songs seem to be some steps ahead of actual events. Page 40

Stepping into a church, listening to religious thinkers, reading scripture, sitting in silence, meditating, praying – all these religious activities eased the way back into the world for me. Page 42

there is a kind of gentle scepticism that makes belief stronger rather than weaker. In fact, it can be the forge on which a more robust belief can be hammered out. Page 42

The priest and religious writer Cynthia Bourgeault talks about ‘the imaginal realm’, which seems to be another place you can inhabit briefly that separates itself from the rational world and is independent of the imagination. It is a kind of liminal state of awareness, before dreaming, before imagining, that is connected to the spirit itself. It is an ‘impossible realm’ where glimpses of the preternatural essence of things find their voice. Page 43

I think to be truly vulnerable is to exist adjacent to collapse or obliteration. Page 45

found a kind of invincibility through acute vulnerability. Page 50

When you are making music together, conversation becomes at best an auxiliary form of communication. It becomes unnecessary, even damaging, to explain things. Page 52

In my experience, boredom is often close to epiphany, to the great idea. In a way, that is very much the agony of songwriting – because boredom is just boredom until it’s not! Page 56

The nature of improvisation is the coming together of two people, with love – and a certain dissonance. Page 57

One of the many things Arthur gave us was Ghosteen. Directly, I believe. I hope so, anyway. Page 60

It seems to me, life is mostly spent putting ourselves back together. But hopefully in new and interesting ways. For me that is what the creative process is, for sure – it is the act of retelling the story of our lives so that it makes sense. Page 69

she was unconditionally supportive of me even when I was at my least deserving. That’s a mother’s love. Page 71

Children need their parents, but parents need their children, too. Sometimes it’s all they have. Page 73

Religion is asking the question: ‘What if?’ And to me, that question is also, in its way, a completely adequate answer. Page 77

To me, the great gift of God is that He provides us with the space to doubt. For me at least, doubt becomes the energy of belief. Page 77

Why would I deny myself something that is clearly beneficial because it doesn’t make sense? That in itself would be illogical. Page 78

it has the ability to lead us, if only temporarily, into a sacred realm. Music plays into the yearning many of us instinctively have – you know, the God-shaped hole. Page 78

It deals with the necessity for forgiveness, for example, and mercy, whereas I don’t think secularism has found the language to address these matters. Page 80

But it could be that using heroin and the need for a sacred dimension to life were similar pursuits, in that they were attempts, at that time, to remedy the same condition. Page 83

you say dumb stuff when you’re young – that is the very definition of being young, then as now, as far as I can see. Page 85

It seems to me that much of our remembered past, especially around traumatic incidents, is based on assumptions and misunderstandings we collected at the time of the trauma and have gone unchallenged ever since. Page 88

t made me think about what our lives actually are, in the end. What are they made of? Are they only semi-fictions, received information and false, or eroded, memories? Are they stories you’ve told about yourself so many times, and shaped and reshaped, that have very little relation to the truth? There’s that famous Joan Didion line – ‘We tell ourselves stories in order to live’ – which gets to the heart of our need for narratives that make sense of, or impose order on, our meandering lives. I guess it’s a way of making the cold, hard truths more palatable. Page 88

But in Mark’s version it’s like I was just eating up everyone who came near me and taking what I could from them creatively. Now, that is very much a matter of perspective. One of the criticisms aimed at me by people in the book is that I always needed a collaborator, as if that is some kind of weakness, rather than just a self-evident way of making better art – to be open to the ideas of other people, to be helped by other people. Some people he spoke to saw that as almost vampiric or something, but it’s interesting, because that kind of criticism almost always comes from people who were not engaged in creating art themselves. They were mainly peripheral, perpetual onlookers who know nothing about what it takes to create something of value. And if you were to ask me how I defined myself as an artist, I would say I was a collaborator, then and now. It’s actually one of the things I am most proud of, that I have had sustained productive relationships with people that have ultimately been mutually beneficial. I think most of the people I have worked with would agree. I always do my best to amplify and push to the front these people, you know … well, more or less. Page 90

I think we contain these traumatic memories in the cells of our body, in our blood, in our bones. Page 93

Some take drugs because they love the chaos and disorder; I took heroin because it fed into my need for a conservative and well-ordered life. Page 94

heroin addiction is all right until it’s not. It quickly escalates – very quickly, actually. Chaos is always just around the corner. And these kinds of rock and roll stories may be funny but they obscure a lot of darkness and pain. Page 97

I became a person after my son died. Not part of a person, a more complete person. Page 102

this will happen to everybody at some point – a deconstruction of the known self. It may not necessarily be a death, but there will be some kind of devastation. Page 102

I think we both worked out that we could be happy and that happiness was a form of insubordination in the face of, I don’t know, life, I guess. It was a choice. That’s it, a choice, a kind of earned and considered arrangement with the world, to be happy. No one has control over the things that happen to them, but we do have a choice as to how we respond. There was a defiance there, in the face of the world’s indifference and apparent casual cruelty. Page 103

I really don’t think we can not talk about it if we are talking about the creative process. It’s simply part of the whole thing. The creative process is not a part of one’s life but life itself and all that it throws at you. For me, it was like the creative process, if we want to call it that, found its real purpose. Page 104

I write songs is perhaps different from many songwriters. I don’t write continuously. Instead, I’ll put an actual date in my diary for when I will begin writing the next record. And that date is the starting point, the initial action towards making a record.

With songwriting, there are always these little glimmers embedded in all the scrambled nonsense and false starts and failed ideas. They’re buried in there like clues. What happens is that they suddenly present themselves, rise from the page, and begin to hold hands. Not all at once, necessarily, but quite rapidly, and then you start to get a creative momentum, a kind of collecting together of information that moves towards the basic framing of a song. Page 109

Travelling the world but seeing none of it! Page 110

you don’t want to then engage in some parallel occupation that makes you feel even worse, that picks away at your self-regard, makes you feel smaller or emptier or insignificant or a failure, or plunges you into a dark place that you have to climb back out of, or makes you cry, or makes you despair. Songwriting does that. Songwriting would be essentially the last straw. It’s just too fucking hard. So you write a book instead, or a screenplay, or an epic poem, or design a T-shirt, or something. Page 111

So thank God, quite literally, for music, because it’s one of the last remaining places, beyond raw nature, that people can feel awed by something happening in real time, that feeling of reverence and wonder. Page 112

Being on stage for me was just an amplification of the general way of life I was living at the time, but it wasn’t a great work ethic. In the end, after many years, I settled for chaos in the mind, order in the workspace. Chaos in the mind? That’s not something I associate with you these days. I mean chaos as a bounty of competing ideas racing around in your head. Page 114

it felt like there was a kind of radical intimacy taking place. Page 115

I could do it on my own, but I don’t think I’d do it nearly as well. The people I’ve worked with have brought a huge amount to the table. That began with Mick, and then Rowland came along with his extraordinary guitar playing and musical inventiveness. Page 116

On some level it’s just the nature of the beast, I guess. It is what I call the corrosive power of collaboration. Collaborations that work are the most glorious and productive of things. But if the collaboration is not attended to properly, with care and respect, it can eat away at itself. Page 119

We’re often led to believe that getting older is in itself somehow a betrayal of our idealistic younger self, but sometimes I think it might be the other way around. Maybe the younger self finds it difficult to inhabit its true potential because it has no idea what that potential is. It is a kind of unformed thing running scared most of the time, frantically trying to build its sense of self – This is me! Here I am! – in any way that it can. But then time and life come along, and smash that sense of self into a million pieces. And then comes the reassembled self, the self you have to put back together. You no longer have to devote time to finding out what you are, you are just free to be whatever you want to be, unimpeded by the incessant needs of others. You somehow grow into the fullness of your humanity, form your own character, become a proper person – I don’t know, someone who has become a part of things, not someone separated from or at odds with the world. Page 121

The idea of encroaching mortality isn’t a concern – the idea of death as a sort of endgame, something separate, waiting down the line. It doesn’t feel like that to me. I guess I feel, day to day, and in a profound way, enmeshed in death, as if it is a clear and present state of being that manifests itself in a sort of vitality. I feel a certain receptivity to its positive influence or presence. Page 124

Susie is my wife, but also a collaborator. Page 126

You know the film I just made of ‘Idiot Prayer’, the solo show I did at Alexandra Palace during lockdown? Well, it was originally called ‘An Evening with Nick Cave’. That was what the team and I had always called it, and it had just sort of stuck, but when Susie found out that’s what it was called, her reaction was, ‘Wow! Could you even find a more boring title?’ So, I’m like, ‘Well, Jesus, babe, that’s just what it’s called! I can’t fucking change it now!’ And she’s like, ‘Okay, but I’m just saying it’s boring.’ So, after a while, I say, ‘Okay, what about “Idiot Prayer” then?’ And she’s like, ‘There you go.’ That sort of thing happens a lot. So a good result, but exasperating at the time. Page 126

Most of the time, I just don’t solicit other people’s opinions if can help it, unless of course I know their opinion is going to be the same as mine. I prefer to go with the flow, provided it’s my flow, Page 127

What I’m trying to say is that I am not just influenced by her, but emboldened by her. Page 128

And you’re right. She is astute to say that about my songs – ‘I always seem to be walking in and out of them’ – because it’s true; I don’t ever sit down with the intention of writing a song about Susie. It’s more that, when I am in that shadowy creative flow, I find it difficult to maintain my own form, so welded am I into her being. I find myself adopting her perspective – flipping from one to the other. A therapist would have a field day with this! Page 128

Sometimes I am trying to manage several voices in my songs – my voice, Susie’s voice and our shared voice, and of course the subjective or observational voice. Page 129

She doesn’t sit down and write the lyrics to a song with me, because there is no room in the process for her, or anyone else, for that matter. And I don’t physically help her design her dresses, because she has her own highly distinctive ideas about beauty and needs to get in touch with that. Page 129

I find not knowing about something in art, that kind of adventuring innocence, whether it is songwriting, scriptwriting, dress designing, score work, sculpture or any other thing, a distinct advantage much of the time. At least initially, anyway, because you enter into the project naïve to the potentially destabilising and corrosive aspects of it. You just blunder in and give it a go. Page 130

In the case of the Charlie Poole song, the lost, cuckolded man moving from house to house, retelling his tale of woe, generates a kind of narrative push to the song itself. Almost like the rhythm of the train tracks under a Johnny Cash song. It’s very beautiful. Page 138

I think we probably find the things that we love early on, and never stray too far from them. I read somewhere that there is something that happens within the brain between the ages of sixteen and twenty-three that makes us super-receptive, particularly to music, and that’s why we attach ourselves so strongly to pieces of music from that period of our lives. That certainly applies to me. To be honest, I simply don’t have the same attachment to music now, or maybe I don’t have the same fundamental need for it as I had back then. Even when I find something that completely blows my mind, there’s an almost academic remove. I don’t have the urge to play it over and over. Page 140

We have a kind of duty to remain engaged. There are a few lines towards the end of ‘Lavender Fields’ that are about that. Once I was running with my friends All of them busy with their pens But the lavender grew rare What happened to them? Page 142

To some degree I feel I have the distinct advantage of having made a long lifetime of terrible mistakes. Like most old people, I have been hurt more, I have suffered more, and I have fucked up more. I have also overcome things that are incomprehensible to younger people. I have experienced more by virtue of being in the world for a really long time. Older people may be broken down, but we are also vast repositories of experience and, if we have been paying attention to world, a certain amount of wisdom, too. This has value. It is worth something. Page 143

thinking about that some more, too, and I was reminded of that beautiful notion of William Blake’s – of Jesus being the imagination. And also that startling image from Matthew 27: ‘Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, who remain standing there in front of the tomb.’ That always makes me think of what it’s like to experience the birth of a creative idea; it’s as if you are waiting for the Christ to appear, to step from the tomb, and reveal Himself. That’s quite an analogy. Do you see songwriting at its best as a kind of creative self-revelation? Yes, and in order for it to happen, you have to be patient. You must have faith. And often you must do the waiting alone. You have to have forbearance, a patient self-control and a tolerance of the process itself. And also an alertness. It is easy to lose one’s nerve, to run away like the apostles did, to go and do something else, but we do that at our peril. That’s when you risk missing the astonishing idea, the Jesus idea. Page 144

the residual idea that pretends to be the astonishing idea. As an artist, you really need to constantly be on the lookout for that. I would say, ‘Beware the residual idea!’ Page 144

Exactly. I tend to find that when I first sit down to write new songs there is a kind of initial flurry of words that appears quite effortlessly. They seem to be right there, at hand, so there is a cosiness about them, a comfortableness. And because they aren’t too bad, really, you immediately start thinking, this is all going to be easy. But these are the deceiving ideas, the residual ideas, the unused remnants of the last record that are still lurking about. They’re like the muck in the pipes, and they have to be flushed out to make room for the new idea, the astonishing idea. I think a lot of musicians deal in residual ideas, because they’re seduced by the comfortable and the familiar. For me, that’s a big mistake, although I can understand the temptation to create something reassuringly familiar. And, in a way, the whole industry is set up to cater to that – to the well-known or second-hand idea. Page 144

I think music can have a way of influencing the heart in a righteous way that enables us to do better, to be better. Especially when the songs get played live. Collectively, we can experience the music actually improving the condition of the listener. I see it all the time. I experience it myself as well. It’s a very real thing. Page 146

In the collective moment of a performance, people are united by the music. That, in itself, has a moral force. Page 146

It requires a certain amount of nerve to rip it all up and start again with something that feels new and, therefore, dangerous. For a start, your brain does not want to go there and it’s telling you that. It’s challenging to write away from the known and the familiar. Page 147

What I’m saying is that you can’t get to that truly creative place unless you find the dangerous idea. And, once again, that’s like standing at the mouth of the tomb, in vigil, waiting for the shock of the risen Christ, the shock of the imagination, the astonishing idea. Page 147

I think the old become not just repositories of lived experience, but of the dead, too. Page 148

I think these absences do something to those of us who remain behind. We are like haunted houses, in a way, and our absences can even transform us so that we feel a quiet but urgent love for those who remain, a tenderness to all of humanity, as well as an earned understanding that our time is finite. Page 148

always myself – even when it’s a character it’s just me in disguise. Page 150

I have absolutely no idea why I told you that story. You actually are like a therapist. Page 151

It’s all in the performing – performing in front of an audience. That’s when the fullness of the songs presents itself. I think the audience draws forth the true intent of the songs. Not that the recorded versions are lesser forms, mind. I actually prefer original recordings to live ones as something to casually listen to. They’re less histrionic, less demanding, but the live versions of the songs are much more experiential and communal. Page 152

blew it. We squandered it. Early on, many of us felt that a chance was presented to us, as a civilisation, to put aside our vanities, grievances and divisions, our hubris, our callous disregard for each other, and come together around a common enemy. Our shared predicament was a gift that could potentially have transformed the world into something extraordinary. To our shame this didn’t happen. The Right got scarier, the Left got crazier, and our already fractured civilisation atomised into something that resembled a collective lunacy. For many, this has been followed by a weariness, an ebbing away of our strength and resolve and a dwindling belief in the common good. Many people’s mental health has suffered as a consequence. Page 154

Yes, that’s right, the work is a form of salvation. Page 156

Twitter is really just a factory that churns out arseholes. Page 165

The Red Hand Files brought about a significant change in my life. For better or for worse, they became the channel that allowed me to step outside my own expectations of what it was to be a rock singer, or whatever it is that I am. They freed me from myself. Page 166

It all comes down to seeing, essentially, to the visual nature of things. That is the way I’ve experienced the world since childhood. And that is the way I write songs – as a series of highly visual images, often violent, mostly sorrowful. Warren, on the other hand, hears the world. Page 167

I kind of loved everything back then, especially painting. Van Gogh, El Greco, Goya, Munch, the nudes of Renoir. I loved Piero della Francesca and Stefan Lochner and Rodin and Donatello. Titian, too, and Rubens. Oskar Kokoschka and Egon Schiele Page 171

For me, it has always been about the nature of the human soul rather than the problems of the society we live in. Page 173

Insofar as the rules that govern our lives no longer apply. I am very familiar with this feeling. It is the compensatory gift at the heart of grief. The usual precepts collapse under the weight of the calamity: the terrible demands that we place upon ourselves; our own internal judging voice; the endless expectations and opinions of others. They suddenly become less important and there is a wonderful freedom in that as well. Page 174

But, you know, I feel that the song addresses the idea that there is a bottomless rage out there that has been animated somehow and is now mutually sustaining – each side fuelling the other. The cosy arrangement that the Left and the Right have traditionally had has turned into something else entirely. It constantly feels like things are going to blow. Page 178

So you learn to make peace with the idea of death as best you can. Or rather you reconcile yourself to the acute jeopardy of life, and you do this by acknowledging the value in things, the precious nature of things, and savouring the time we have together in this world. Page 182

However, God cannot be defended, hence we must. Page 186

I can’t imagine there is anyone with no regrets, unless they are leading extraordinarily unexamined lives, or they are young, which often amounts to much the same thing. So, yes, I have my regrets. Not that regrets in themselves are bad things, of course. They are generally indicators of a certain self-awareness or personal growth or distance travelled. Page 189

prayer is not so much talking to God, but rather listening for the whispers of His presence – not from outside ourselves, but within. It’s kind of the same with the questions that come in to The Red Hand Files. I think they are singularly and collectively trying to tell me something, which may just be ‘I am here’. I think they reflect my own needs. There is an exchange of a sort of essentialness, wherein we attend to each other through a sharing of our collective need to be listened to. Page 190

one of the reasons the project was created was an attempt to find a language to set forth, in words, the travails of grief. Page 191

I do have a strong commitment to the primary impulse, the initial signalling of an idea – what we could call the divine spark. I trust in it. I believe in it. I run with it. Page 192

There is a sense of discovery about it. Things unfold. This place of discomfort and uncertainty and adventure is where an honest, good-faith conversation can happen. It’s all the same thing. Page 192

Grief actively revolves around a point of torture, a moment of realisation, an actual tangible thing. Page 194

There is a responsibility around The Red Hand Files that I had no idea I was getting into. Page 195

in a sense, Andrew was right, because if Arthur hadn’t died, I would not have been doing any of these things. But grief gave me a reckless energy. It afforded me a feeling of invincibility and a total disregard for the outcome, a sort of fearless abandonment to destiny. The worst had happened. Page 197

I can only imagine. So is Arthur a kind of guardian angel? Well, he does protect me, but he is not a guardian angel. Arthur is my son and he died. He exists just beyond my vision and my reason and a whole sea of tears – as a promise, maybe, or a wish. Page 197

This is how I have chosen to live my life – in uncertainty, and by doing so to be open to the divine possibility of things, whether it exists or not. I believe this gives my life, and especially my work, meaning and potential and soul, too, beyond what the rational world has to offer. Page 198

They may well be delusions, but these poetic intimations guide us back to the world. In that respect, they are as real and true as anything else, and perhaps the most beautiful and mysterious things imaginable. Page 199

what I am trying to present is the idea of grief as a gift. Grief as a positive force. Grief that can become, if we allow it its full expression, a defiant, sometimes mutinous energy. Page 200

Ironically, I think the rise of woke culture is akin to a fundamentalist religious impulse. Page 202

Any question where you have to mount an argument and do it in a few paragraphs without coming off as strident or conceited or like you’re pushing an agenda. This is difficult for me, as you know. Page 203

Negative responses take up mental space. They require time and energy they often don’t deserve, time and energy I would rather put elsewhere. Page 204

Well, music is one of the last great spiritual gifts we have that can bring solace to the world. It becomes a sort of duty, in my opinion, to use your music, not for your own aggrandisement, but for the betterment of others. As far as I can see, that is our purpose as artists. The Red Hand Files have come to belong in that tradition – as a small gesture of service, and, maybe, as a form of spiritual sustenance and kindness that may go some small way in helping people with their lives. Page 204

the night it happened feels acutely real and then everything afterwards goes kind of blank. Page 207

It felt like I was walking through treacle, or walking against the wind. Throughout the entire Skeleton Tree session I just felt dead, but I knew if I didn’t do the record then, I never would. Page 211

I was actually much better by then, but I do think, for a time, I lost agency somehow. I think that’s what happens: you essentially become a person who needs someone to tell them what to do. Page 215

I think grief needs to be measured by action. It’s not so much about working on your feelings. Your feelings come and go. They retreat and change and can ultimately surprise you. But you need to put some structure and method in your day, as best you can. I mean, that seems sound advice for any situation. You have to construct a series of actions around your day in order to survive: you exercise, you go down to the sea for a swim, you meditate, you make breakfast for your kid – you do all the small things. Page 216

we are not strong. We survived because we remained together. It is as simple as that. When one crashed, the other stepped up. That is important. Page 217

I don’t know how we got to where we are, because, in truth, I don’t know where that is. Page 218

People are good. I rarely see badness in people; rather, I see layers of suffering. Page 219

Love, that most crucial, counter-intuitive act of all, is the responsibility of each of us. Page 219

I feel the goodness of the world must be experienced to some extent through the mechanism of suffering – the God in the cloud – if the notion of goodness is to hold any kind of truth or real substance. Page 219

Yes, but you learn in time that this is just nonsense. In fact, you learn all sorts of things: that personal chaos is not a necessary condition for creating good art; that the pram in the hallway is as much a source of inspiration as anything else; that being strung out on drugs doesn’t necessarily make you a better artist. These days, that kind of compulsive mania I once had I find almost embarrassing. That said, I do still lose control over certain impulses from time to time. Page 223

It’s not so much the creative impulse itself that is so compelling, but rather doing something that feels challenging and vulnerable and new, whether that is ceramics or a different-sounding record or The Red Hand Files, the In Conversation events, Cave Things, this book, whatever. There is a risk involved that generates a feeling of creative terror, a vertiginous feeling that has the ability to make you feel more alive, as if you are hotwired into the job in hand, where you create, right there, on the edge of disaster. You become vulnerable because you allow yourself to be open to failure, to condemnation, to criticism, but that, as I think the Stoics said, is what gives you creative character. And that feeling of jeopardy can be very seductive. Page 224

Something tells me you’re quite a perfectionist about this kind of stuff. Well, I don’t know about that. I just need things to be done in the right way. Page 225

Ultimately, the figurines are not saying anything, they are not declaring anything, in the same way that all my work for the last six years is not saying anything. It is asking for something. Skeleton Tree, Ghosteen, Carnage, The Red Hand Files, the In Conversation Events, the live shows, even this book we are writing – they are all asking for the same thing. Which is? Absolution. Page 231

Well, in my experience, art does have the ability to save us, in so many different ways. It can act as a point of salvation, because it has the potential to put beauty back into the world. And that in itself is a way of making amends, of reconciling us with the world. Art has the power to redress the balance of things, of our wrongs, of our sins. Page 232

we find too much rehearsing becomes deadening. You need to learn the songs, of course, but then you find that everything changes when you play live, anyway Page 236

a record is never a thing in itself; rather, it’s just one part of a larger experiential event that terminates in a live concert. Page 238

I think art goes some way to reconciling the artist with the world. I guess that’s really what I’m talking about. Music can be a form of active atonement. It can be a way of redressing the balance somehow by explicitly putting good into the world, the best of ourselves. And, of course, that requires the participation of the world. Page 243

I don’t know about you but I find I have to write my ideas down to really know what I think. And, furthermore, I have to say those ideas out loud, or indeed to sing them out loud, to somebody else, before I know if they are valid or meaningful, or not. It’s that relational thing I was talking about. Page 246

We need to be able to exist beyond disagreement. Friendships have to exist beyond that. We need to be able to talk, to make mistakes, to forgive and be forgiven. As far as I can see, forgiveness is an essential component of any good, vibrant friendship – that we extend to each other the great privilege of being allowed to be wrong. One of the clear benefits of conversation is that your position on things can become more nimble and pliant. For me, conversation is also an antidote to dualistic thinking, simply because we are knocking up against another person’s points of view. Something more essential happens between people when they converse. Ultimately, we discover that disagreements frequently aren’t life- threatening, they are just differing perspectives, or, more often than that, colliding virtues. Page 246

Hope is optimism with a broken heart. Page 247

if I look back at my past work from the certainty and conviction of the present, it appears as if it was a series of collapsing ideas that brought me to my current position. And what’s more, the actual point I’m looking back from is no more stable than any of the previous ones – in fact, it’s being shed even as we speak. There’s a slightly sickening, vertiginous feeling in all of this. The sense that the ground is constantly moving beneath your feet? Yes, exactly. So how do you deal with that? Well, I have learned over time that the creation itself, the thing, the what, is not the essential component, really, for the artist. The what almost always seems on some level insufficient. When I look back at the work itself it mostly feels wanting, you know; it could have been better. This is not false humility but fact, and common to most artists, I suspect. Indeed, it is probably how it should be. What matters most is not so much the ‘what’ as the ‘how’ of it all, and I am heartened by the knowledge that, at the very least, I turned up for the job, no matter what was going on at the time. Even if I didn’t really understand what the job was. Page 247

It’s like we are running towards God, but that God’s love is also the wind that is pushing us on, as both the impetus and the destination, and it resides in both the living and the dead. Around and around we go, encountering the same things, again and again, but within this movement things happen that change us, annihilate us, shift our relationship to the world. It is this circular reciprocal motion that grows more essential and affirming and necessary with each turn. Page 248

But in Mark’s version it’s like I was just eating up everyone who came near me and taking what I could from them creatively. Now, that is very much a matter of perspective. One of the criticisms aimed at me by people in the book is that I always needed a collaborator, as if that is some kind of weakness, rather than just a self-evident way of making better art – to be open to the ideas of other people, to be helped by other people. Some people he spoke to saw that as almost vampiric or something, but it’s interesting, because that kind of criticism almost always comes from people who were not engaged in creating art themselves. They were mainly peripheral, perpetual onlookers who know nothing about what it takes to create something of value. And if you were to ask me how I defined myself as an artist, I would say I was a collaborator, then and now. It’s actually one of the things I am most proud of, that I have had sustained productive relationships with people that have ultimately been mutually beneficial. I think most of the people I have worked with would agree. I always do my best to amplify and push to the front these people, you know … well, more or less. Page 90

I think we contain these traumatic memories in the cells of our body, in our blood, in our bones. Page 93

Some take drugs because they love the chaos and disorder; I took heroin because it fed into my need for a conservative and well-ordered life. Page 94

heroin addiction is all right until it’s not. It quickly escalates – very quickly, actually. Chaos is always just around the corner. And these kinds of rock and roll stories may be funny but they obscure a lot of darkness and pain. Page 97

I became a person after my son died. Not part of a person, a more complete person. Page 102

this will happen to everybody at some point – a deconstruction of the known self. It may not necessarily be a death, but there will be some kind of devastation. Page 102

I think we both worked out that we could be happy and that happiness was a form of insubordination in the face of, I don’t know, life, I guess. It was a choice. That’s it, a choice, a kind of earned and considered arrangement with the world, to be happy. No one has control over the things that happen to them, but we do have a choice as to how we respond. There was a defiance there, in the face of the world’s indifference and apparent casual cruelty. Page 103

I really don’t think we can not talk about it if we are talking about the creative process. It’s simply part of the whole thing. The creative process is not a part of one’s life but life itself and all that it throws at you. For me, it was like the creative process, if we want to call it that, found its real purpose. Page 104

I write songs is perhaps different from many songwriters. I don’t write continuously. Instead, I’ll put an actual date in my diary for when I will begin writing the next record. And that date is the starting point, the initial action towards making a record.

With songwriting, there are always these little glimmers embedded in all the scrambled nonsense and false starts and failed ideas. They’re buried in there like clues. What happens is that they suddenly present themselves, rise from the page, and begin to hold hands. Not all at once, necessarily, but quite rapidly, and then you start to get a creative momentum, a kind of collecting together of information that moves towards the basic framing of a song. Page 109

Travelling the world but seeing none of it! Page 110

you don’t want to then engage in some parallel occupation that makes you feel even worse, that picks away at your self-regard, makes you feel smaller or emptier or insignificant or a failure, or plunges you into a dark place that you have to climb back out of, or makes you cry, or makes you despair. Songwriting does that. Songwriting would be essentially the last straw. It’s just too fucking hard. So you write a book instead, or a screenplay, or an epic poem, or design a T-shirt, or something. Page 111

So thank God, quite literally, for music, because it’s one of the last remaining places, beyond raw nature, that people can feel awed by something happening in real time, that feeling of reverence and wonder. Page 112

Being on stage for me was just an amplification of the general way of life I was living at the time, but it wasn’t a great work ethic. In the end, after many years, I settled for chaos in the mind, order in the workspace. Chaos in the mind? That’s not something I associate with you these days. I mean chaos as a bounty of competing ideas racing around in your head. Page 114

it felt like there was a kind of radical intimacy taking place. Page 115

I could do it on my own, but I don’t think I’d do it nearly as well. The people I’ve worked with have brought a huge amount to the table. That began with Mick, and then Rowland came along with his extraordinary guitar playing and musical inventiveness. Page 116

On some level it’s just the nature of the beast, I guess. It is what I call the corrosive power of collaboration. Collaborations that work are the most glorious and productive of things. But if the collaboration is not attended to properly, with care and respect, it can eat away at itself. Page 119

We’re often led to believe that getting older is in itself somehow a betrayal of our idealistic younger self, but sometimes I think it might be the other way around. Maybe the younger self finds it difficult to inhabit its true potential because it has no idea what that potential is. It is a kind of unformed thing running scared most of the time, frantically trying to build its sense of self – This is me! Here I am! – in any way that it can. But then time and life come along, and smash that sense of self into a million pieces. And then comes the reassembled self, the self you have to put back together. You no longer have to devote time to finding out what you are, you are just free to be whatever you want to be, unimpeded by the incessant needs of others. You somehow grow into the fullness of your humanity, form your own character, become a proper person – I don’t know, someone who has become a part of things, not someone separated from or at odds with the world. Page 121

The idea of encroaching mortality isn’t a concern – the idea of death as a sort of endgame, something separate, waiting down the line. It doesn’t feel like that to me. I guess I feel, day to day, and in a profound way, enmeshed in death, as if it is a clear and present state of being that manifests itself in a sort of vitality. I feel a certain receptivity to its positive influence or presence. Page 124

Susie is my wife, but also a collaborator. Page 126

You know the film I just made of ‘Idiot Prayer’, the solo show I did at Alexandra Palace during lockdown? Well, it was originally called ‘An Evening with Nick Cave’. That was what the team and I had always called it, and it had just sort of stuck, but when Susie found out that’s what it was called, her reaction was, ‘Wow! Could you even find a more boring title?’ So, I’m like, ‘Well, Jesus, babe, that’s just what it’s called! I can’t fucking change it now!’ And she’s like, ‘Okay, but I’m just saying it’s boring.’ So, after a while, I say, ‘Okay, what about “Idiot Prayer” then?’ And she’s like, ‘There you go.’ That sort of thing happens a lot. So a good result, but exasperating at the time. Page 126

Most of the time, I just don’t solicit other people’s opinions if can help it, unless of course I know their opinion is going to be the same as mine. I prefer to go with the flow, provided it’s my flow, Page 127

What I’m trying to say is that I am not just influenced by her, but emboldened by her. Page 128

And you’re right. She is astute to say that about my songs – ‘I always seem to be walking in and out of them’ – because it’s true; I don’t ever sit down with the intention of writing a song about Susie. It’s more that, when I am in that shadowy creative flow, I find it difficult to maintain my own form, so welded am I into her being. I find myself adopting her perspective – flipping from one to the other. A therapist would have a field day with this! Page 128

Sometimes I am trying to manage several voices in my songs – my voice, Susie’s voice and our shared voice, and of course the subjective or observational voice. Page 129

She doesn’t sit down and write the lyrics to a song with me, because there is no room in the process for her, or anyone else, for that matter. And I don’t physically help her design her dresses, because she has her own highly distinctive ideas about beauty and needs to get in touch with that. Page 129

I find not knowing about something in art, that kind of adventuring innocence, whether it is songwriting, scriptwriting, dress designing, score work, sculpture or any other thing, a distinct advantage much of the time. At least initially, anyway, because you enter into the project naïve to the potentially destabilising and corrosive aspects of it. You just blunder in and give it a go. Page 130

In the case of the Charlie Poole song, the lost, cuckolded man moving from house to house, retelling his tale of woe, generates a kind of narrative push to the song itself. Almost like the rhythm of the train tracks under a Johnny Cash song. It’s very beautiful. Page 138

I think we probably find the things that we love early on, and never stray too far from them. I read somewhere that there is something that happens within the brain between the ages of sixteen and twenty-three that makes us super-receptive, particularly to music, and that’s why we attach ourselves so strongly to pieces of music from that period of our lives. That certainly applies to me. To be honest, I simply don’t have the same attachment to music now, or maybe I don’t have the same fundamental need for it as I had back then. Even when I find something that completely blows my mind, there’s an almost academic remove. I don’t have the urge to play it over and over. Page 140

We have a kind of duty to remain engaged. There are a few lines towards the end of ‘Lavender Fields’ that are about that. Once I was running with my friends All of them busy with their pens But the lavender grew rare What happened to them? Page 142

We have a kind of duty to remain engaged. There are a few lines towards the end of ‘Lavender Fields’ that are about that. Once I was running with my friends All of them busy with their pens But the lavender grew rare What happened to them? Page 142

To some degree I feel I have the distinct advantage of having made a long lifetime of terrible mistakes. Like most old people, I have been hurt more, I have suffered more, and I have fucked up more. I have also overcome things that are incomprehensible to younger people. I have experienced more by virtue of being in the world for a really long time. Older people may be broken down, but we are also vast repositories of experience and, if we have been paying attention to world, a certain amount of wisdom, too. This has value. It is worth something. Page 143

thinking about that some more, too, and I was reminded of that beautiful notion of William Blake’s – of Jesus being the imagination. And also that startling image from Matthew 27: ‘Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, who remain standing there in front of the tomb.’ That always makes me think of what it’s like to experience the birth of a creative idea; it’s as if you are waiting for the Christ to appear, to step from the tomb, and reveal Himself. That’s quite an analogy. Do you see songwriting at its best as a kind of creative self-revelation? Yes, and in order for it to happen, you have to be patient. You must have faith. And often you must do the waiting alone. You have to have forbearance, a patient self-control and a tolerance of the process itself. And also an alertness. It is easy to lose one’s nerve, to run away like the apostles did, to go and do something else, but we do that at our peril. That’s when you risk missing the astonishing idea, the Jesus idea. Page 144

the residual idea that pretends to be the astonishing idea. As an artist, you really need to constantly be on the lookout for that. I would say, ‘Beware the residual idea!’ Page 144

Exactly. I tend to find that when I first sit down to write new songs there is a kind of initial flurry of words that appears quite effortlessly. They seem to be right there, at hand, so there is a cosiness about them, a comfortableness. And because they aren’t too bad, really, you immediately start thinking, this is all going to be easy. But these are the deceiving ideas, the residual ideas, the unused remnants of the last record that are still lurking about. They’re like the muck in the pipes, and they have to be flushed out to make room for the new idea, the astonishing idea. I think a lot of musicians deal in residual ideas, because they’re seduced by the comfortable and the familiar. For me, that’s a big mistake, although I can understand the temptation to create something reassuringly familiar. And, in a way, the whole industry is set up to cater to that – to the well-known or second-hand idea. Page 144

Exactly. I tend to find that when I first sit down to write new songs there is a kind of initial flurry of words that appears quite effortlessly. They seem to be right there, at hand, so there is a cosiness about them, a comfortableness. And because they aren’t too bad, really, you immediately start thinking, this is all going to be easy. But these are the deceiving ideas, the residual ideas, the unused remnants of the last record that are still lurking about. They’re like the muck in the pipes, and they have to be flushed out to make room for the new idea, the astonishing idea. I think a lot of musicians deal in residual ideas, because they’re seduced by the comfortable and the familiar. For me, that’s a big mistake, although I can understand the temptation to create something reassuringly familiar. And, in a way, the whole industry is set up to cater to that – to the well-known or second-hand idea. Page 144

I think music can have a way of influencing the heart in a righteous way that enables us to do better, to be better. Especially when the songs get played live. Collectively, we can experience the music actually improving the condition of the listener. I see it all the time. I experience it myself as well. It’s a very real thing. Page 146

In the collective moment of a performance, people are united by the music. That, in itself, has a moral force. Page 146

It requires a certain amount of nerve to rip it all up and start again with something that feels new and, therefore, dangerous. For a start, your brain does not want to go there and it’s telling you that. It’s challenging to write away from the known and the familiar. Page 147

What I’m saying is that you can’t get to that truly creative place unless you find the dangerous idea. And, once again, that’s like standing at the mouth of the tomb, in vigil, waiting for the shock of the risen Christ, the shock of the imagination, the astonishing idea. Page 147

I think the old become not just repositories of lived experience, but of the dead, too. Page 148

I think these absences do something to those of us who remain behind. We are like haunted houses, in a way, and our absences can even transform us so that we feel a quiet but urgent love for those who remain, a tenderness to all of humanity, as well as an earned understanding that our time is finite. Page 148

always myself – even when it’s a character it’s just me in disguise. Page 150

I have absolutely no idea why I told you that story. You actually are like a therapist. Page 151

It’s all in the performing – performing in front of an audience. That’s when the fullness of the songs presents itself. I think the audience draws forth the true intent of the songs. Not that the recorded versions are lesser forms, mind. I actually prefer original recordings to live ones as something to casually listen to. They’re less histrionic, less demanding, but the live versions of the songs are much more experiential and communal. Page 152

blew it. We squandered it. Early on, many of us felt that a chance was presented to us, as a civilisation, to put aside our vanities, grievances and divisions, our hubris, our callous disregard for each other, and come together around a common enemy. Our shared predicament was a gift that could potentially have transformed the world into something extraordinary. To our shame this didn’t happen. The Right got scarier, the Left got crazier, and our already fractured civilisation atomised into something that resembled a collective lunacy. For many, this has been followed by a weariness, an ebbing away of our strength and resolve and a dwindling belief in the common good. Many people’s mental health has suffered as a consequence. Page 154

Yes, that’s right, the work is a form of salvation. Page 156

Twitter is really just a factory that churns out arseholes. Page 165

The Red Hand Files brought about a significant change in my life. For better or for worse, they became the channel that allowed me to step outside my own expectations of what it was to be a rock singer, or whatever it is that I am. They freed me from myself. Page 166

It all comes down to seeing, essentially, to the visual nature of things. That is the way I’ve experienced the world since childhood. And that is the way I write songs – as a series of highly visual images, often violent, mostly sorrowful. Warren, on the other hand, hears the world. Page 167

I kind of loved everything back then, especially painting. Van Gogh, El Greco, Goya, Munch, the nudes of Renoir. I loved Piero della Francesca and Stefan Lochner and Rodin and Donatello. Titian, too, and Rubens. Oskar Kokoschka and Egon Schiele Page 171

For me, it has always been about the nature of the human soul rather than the problems of the society we live in. Page 173

Insofar as the rules that govern our lives no longer apply. I am very familiar with this feeling. It is the compensatory gift at the heart of grief. The usual precepts collapse under the weight of the calamity: the terrible demands that we place upon ourselves; our own internal judging voice; the endless expectations and opinions of others. They suddenly become less important and there is a wonderful freedom in that as well. Page 174

But, you know, I feel that the song addresses the idea that there is a bottomless rage out there that has been animated somehow and is now mutually sustaining – each side fuelling the other. The cosy arrangement that the Left and the Right have traditionally had has turned into something else entirely. It constantly feels like things are going to blow. Page 178

So you learn to make peace with the idea of death as best you can. Or rather you reconcile yourself to the acute jeopardy of life, and you do this by acknowledging the value in things, the precious nature of things, and savouring the time we have together in this world. Page 182

However, God cannot be defended, hence we must. Page 186

I can’t imagine there is anyone with no regrets, unless they are leading extraordinarily unexamined lives, or they are young, which often amounts to much the same thing. So, yes, I have my regrets. Not that regrets in themselves are bad things, of course. They are generally indicators of a certain self-awareness or personal growth or distance travelled. Page 189

prayer is not so much talking to God, but rather listening for the whispers of His presence – not from outside ourselves, but within. It’s kind of the same with the questions that come in to The Red Hand Files. I think they are singularly and collectively trying to tell me something, which may just be ‘I am here’. I think they reflect my own needs. There is an exchange of a sort of essentialness, wherein we attend to each other through a sharing of our collective need to be listened to. Page 190

one of the reasons the project was created was an attempt to find a language to set forth, in words, the travails of grief. Page 191

I do have a strong commitment to the primary impulse, the initial signalling of an idea – what we could call the divine spark. I trust in it. I believe in it. I run with it. Page 192

There is a sense of discovery about it. Things unfold. This place of discomfort and uncertainty and adventure is where an honest, good-faith conversation can happen. It’s all the same thing. Page 192

Grief actively revolves around a point of torture, a moment of realisation, an actual tangible thing. Page 194

There is a responsibility around The Red Hand Files that I had no idea I was getting into. Page 195

in a sense, Andrew was right, because if Arthur hadn’t died, I would not have been doing any of these things. But grief gave me a reckless energy. It afforded me a feeling of invincibility and a total disregard for the outcome, a sort of fearless abandonment to destiny. The worst had happened. Page 197

I can only imagine. So is Arthur a kind of guardian angel? Well, he does protect me, but he is not a guardian angel. Arthur is my son and he died. He exists just beyond my vision and my reason and a whole sea of tears – as a promise, maybe, or a wish. Page 197

This is how I have chosen to live my life – in uncertainty, and by doing so to be open to the divine possibility of things, whether it exists or not. I believe this gives my life, and especially my work, meaning and potential and soul, too, beyond what the rational world has to offer. Page 198

They may well be delusions, but these poetic intimations guide us back to the world. In that respect, they are as real and true as anything else, and perhaps the most beautiful and mysterious things imaginable. Page 199

what I am trying to present is the idea of grief as a gift. Grief as a positive force. Grief that can become, if we allow it its full expression, a defiant, sometimes mutinous energy. Page 200

Ironically, I think the rise of woke culture is akin to a fundamentalist religious impulse. Page 202

Any question where you have to mount an argument and do it in a few paragraphs without coming off as strident or conceited or like you’re pushing an agenda. This is difficult for me, as you know. Page 203

Negative responses take up mental space. They require time and energy they often don’t deserve, time and energy I would rather put elsewhere. Page 204

Well, music is one of the last great spiritual gifts we have that can bring solace to the world. It becomes a sort of duty, in my opinion, to use your music, not for your own aggrandisement, but for the betterment of others. As far as I can see, that is our purpose as artists. The Red Hand Files have come to belong in that tradition – as a small gesture of service, and, maybe, as a form of spiritual sustenance and kindness that may go some small way in helping people with their lives. Page 204

the night it happened feels acutely real and then everything afterwards goes kind of blank. Page 207

It felt like I was walking through treacle, or walking against the wind. Throughout the entire Skeleton Tree session I just felt dead, but I knew if I didn’t do the record then, I never would. Page 211

I was actually much better by then, but I do think, for a time, I lost agency somehow. I think that’s what happens: you essentially become a person who needs someone to tell them what to do. Page 215

I think grief needs to be measured by action. It’s not so much about working on your feelings. Your feelings come and go. They retreat and change and can ultimately surprise you. But you need to put some structure and method in your day, as best you can. I mean, that seems sound advice for any situation. You have to construct a series of actions around your day in order to survive: you exercise, you go down to the sea for a swim, you meditate, you make breakfast for your kid – you do all the small things. Page 216

we are not strong. We survived because we remained together. It is as simple as that. When one crashed, the other stepped up. That is important. Page 217

I don’t know how we got to where we are, because, in truth, I don’t know where that is. Page 218

People are good. I rarely see badness in people; rather, I see layers of suffering. Page 219

Love, that most crucial, counter-intuitive act of all, is the responsibility of each of us. Page 219

I feel the goodness of the world must be experienced to some extent through the mechanism of suffering – the God in the cloud – if the notion of goodness is to hold any kind of truth or real substance. Page 219

Yes, but you learn in time that this is just nonsense. In fact, you learn all sorts of things: that personal chaos is not a necessary condition for creating good art; that the pram in the hallway is as much a source of inspiration as anything else; that being strung out on drugs doesn’t necessarily make you a better artist. These days, that kind of compulsive mania I once had I find almost embarrassing. That said, I do still lose control over certain impulses from time to time. Page 223

It’s not so much the creative impulse itself that is so compelling, but rather doing something that feels challenging and vulnerable and new, whether that is ceramics or a different-sounding record or The Red Hand Files, the In Conversation events, Cave Things, this book, whatever. There is a risk involved that generates a feeling of creative terror, a vertiginous feeling that has the ability to make you feel more alive, as if you are hotwired into the job in hand, where you create, right there, on the edge of disaster. You become vulnerable because you allow yourself to be open to failure, to condemnation, to criticism, but that, as I think the Stoics said, is what gives you creative character. And that feeling of jeopardy can be very seductive. Page 224

Something tells me you’re quite a perfectionist about this kind of stuff. Well, I don’t know about that. I just need things to be done in the right way. Page 225

Ultimately, the figurines are not saying anything, they are not declaring anything, in the same way that all my work for the last six years is not saying anything. It is asking for something. Skeleton Tree, Ghosteen, Carnage, The Red Hand Files, the In Conversation Events, the live shows, even this book we are writing – they are all asking for the same thing. Which is? Absolution. Page 231

Well, in my experience, art does have the ability to save us, in so many different ways. It can act as a point of salvation, because it has the potential to put beauty back into the world. And that in itself is a way of making amends, of reconciling us with the world. Art has the power to redress the balance of things, of our wrongs, of our sins. Page 232

we find too much rehearsing becomes deadening. You need to learn the songs, of course, but then you find that everything changes when you play live, anyway Page 236

a record is never a thing in itself; rather, it’s just one part of a larger experiential event that terminates in a live concert. Page 238

I think art goes some way to reconciling the artist with the world. I guess that’s really what I’m talking about. Music can be a form of active atonement. It can be a way of redressing the balance somehow by explicitly putting good into the world, the best of ourselves. And, of course, that requires the participation of the world. Page 243

I don’t know about you but I find I have to write my ideas down to really know what I think. And, furthermore, I have to say those ideas out loud, or indeed to sing them out loud, to somebody else, before I know if they are valid or meaningful, or not. It’s that relational thing I was talking about. Page 246

We need to be able to exist beyond disagreement. Friendships have to exist beyond that. We need to be able to talk, to make mistakes, to forgive and be forgiven. As far as I can see, forgiveness is an essential component of any good, vibrant friendship – that we extend to each other the great privilege of being allowed to be wrong. One of the clear benefits of conversation is that your position on things can become more nimble and pliant. For me, conversation is also an antidote to dualistic thinking, simply because we are knocking up against another person’s points of view. Something more essential happens between people when they converse. Ultimately, we discover that disagreements frequently aren’t life- threatening, they are just differing perspectives, or, more often than that, colliding virtues. Page 246

Hope is optimism with a broken heart. Page 247

if I look back at my past work from the certainty and conviction of the present, it appears as if it was a series of collapsing ideas that brought me to my current position. And what’s more, the actual point I’m looking back from is no more stable than any of the previous ones – in fact, it’s being shed even as we speak. There’s a slightly sickening, vertiginous feeling in all of this. The sense that the ground is constantly moving beneath your feet? Yes, exactly. So how do you deal with that? Well, I have learned over time that the creation itself, the thing, the what, is not the essential component, really, for the artist. The what almost always seems on some level insufficient. When I look back at the work itself it mostly feels wanting, you know; it could have been better. This is not false humility but fact, and common to most artists, I suspect. Indeed, it is probably how it should be. What matters most is not so much the ‘what’ as the ‘how’ of it all, and I am heartened by the knowledge that, at the very least, I turned up for the job, no matter what was going on at the time. Even if I didn’t really understand what the job was. Page 247

It’s like we are running towards God, but that God’s love is also the wind that is pushing us on, as both the impetus and the destination, and it resides in both the living and the dead. Around and around we go, encountering the same things, again and again, but within this movement things happen that change us, annihilate us, shift our relationship to the world. It is this circular reciprocal motion that grows more essential and affirming and necessary with each turn. Page 248

Read Writers on Writers

Provocative, crisp and written from a practitioner’s perspective, the series starts a fresh conversation between past and present, and writer and reader. It sheds light on the craft of writing, and introduces some intriguing and talented authors and their work.

One of my recent finds on Audible was the Writers on Writers series, it involves one author writing about another author:

Writers on writers is a series of short books in which leading authors reflect on an Australian writer who has inspired and influenced them.

This was different from something like the Fontana Modern Masters series, which from my experience provided a structured ‘guide to intellectual currents’. Although like the Fontana series each book involves an engagement between the two authors, where this series differs is that each book is unique in voice and style. For example:

  • On John Marsden is Alice Pung’s letter of gratitude.
  • On David Malouf is as much a reflection on Nam Le’s writing and what it means to be an Australian writer as it is about Malouf.
  • On Patrick White is Christos Tsiolkas’ more methodical analysis about what made White’s writing so powerful.

What is interesting about these books is that knowledge of either writer is not essential as each book offers its own insight.

Read novella by the English author Charles Dickens, first published in 1843 by Contributors to Wikimedia projects

Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol during a period when the British were exploring and re-evaluating past Christmas traditions, including carols, and newer customs such as cards and Christmas trees. He was influenced by the experiences of his own youth and by the Christmas stories of other authors, including Washington Irving and Douglas Jerrold. Dickens had written three Christmas stories prior to the novella, and was inspired following a visit to the Field Lane Ragged School, one of several establishments for London’s street children. The treatment of the poor and the ability of a selfish man to redeem himself by transforming into a more sympathetic character are the key themes of the story. There is discussion among academics as to whether this is a fully secular story, or if it is a Christian allegory.

A Christmas Carol is one of those stories that I felt I had always known, but never read. It was made all that more enjoyable with Tim Curry’s reading.
Read Grant & I by Robert Forster

The Go-Betweens, one of Australia’s most talented and influential bands, very nearly wasn’t. Grant McLennan didn’t want to be in a group, and couldn’t even play an instrument. That didn’t stop the singer-songwriter duo of Forster/McLennan becoming one of the most acclaimed partnerships in Australian music history.

Just as The Go-Betweens always defied categorisation, Grant & I is like no other rock memoir. At its heart is a privileged insight into a prolific artistic collaboration that lasted three decades, and an extraordinary friendship that rode out the band’s break-up to remain strong until Grant’s premature death in 2006.

Unconventional in lineup and look, noted for near misses and near hits, always a beat to one side of the mainstream – the band’s unusual beginnings were followed by twists that often confounded its members as well as fans and record companies. The story of The Go-Betweens is also the story of the times, and Grant & I is a wonderfully perceptive look at the music industry and a brilliantly fresh take on the sounds of the era.

As distinctive a writer of prose as he is of songs, Robert Forster is wise and witty, intimate and frank, astute and knowledgeable. There could be no better tribute than Grant & I to this partnership and band who remain loved and revered.

Grant and I is a memoir that traces the history of The Go-Betweens through Robert Forster’s relationship with Grant McLennan. The narrative traces the journey though beginnings of the band, the various ideas and inspirations that influenced them, trying to make it in Australia and abroad, and the experiences of producing each of the albums. Even with all the supposed accolades, Forster pulls back the curtain to capture a life of living in squats and endless touring, pointing out that although they may have tramped all over Europe, they never really got a chance relax and take things in, and how they were left paying back the advance given to tour with REM for the next 26 years.

In a review for Australian Book Review, Doug Wallen summarises it as follows:

As with the band’s songs, Forster’s account is melancholic, cheery, and self-deprecating all at once. It is often unruly and mischievous as well. Rather than presenting a stock-standard Australian success story, Grant & I offers up the tangled lives of two kindred spirits who decided to make music together. Younger readers who only know The Go-Betweens as canonised legends with a major bridge in Brisbane named after them can discover how long the band toiled in obscurity before securing that lasting recognition.

There has been criticism that Forster left a lot out, such as the place of heroin in their lives. However, I was left wondering if that was asking something from the book that it never promised to provide and if maybe that was not Robert’s story to tell? In some ways, there was an air of David Malouf’s Johnno or F Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby to it all, both books mentioned in the book, with McLennan both known and unknown.

Read Tell Me Why

Not many have lived as many lives as Archie Roach – stolen child, seeker, teenage alcoholic, lover, father, musical and lyrical genius, and leader – but it took him almost a lifetime to find out who he really was.

Roach was only two years old when he was forcibly removed from his family. Brought up by a series of foster parents until his early teens, his world imploded when he received a letter that spoke of a life he had no memory of.

In this intimate, moving and often shocking memoir, Archie’s story is an extraordinary odyssey through love and heartbreak, family and community, survival and renewal – and the healing power of music. Overcoming enormous odds to find his story and his people, Archie voices the joy, pain and hope he found on his path through song to become the legendary singer-songwriter and storyteller that he is today – beloved by fans worldwide.

Tell Me Why is a stunning account of resilience and the strength of spirit – and of a great love story.

Tell Me Why is the story of Archie Roach’s life. It talks about his life growing up in foster care after being removed from his family and his subsequent search for them. It traces Roach’s battles with addiction, firstly alcohol and then gunja.

I always felt like I understood the stolen generation and the trauma that it brought indigenous people. However, after reading Roach’s story it highlighted that my understanding was academic and somewhat superficial. It also gave a new appreciation for Roach’s music.

One of the things to note about the book is that even through adversity, there is humour throughout, whether it be Paul Kelly being referred to as a security guard or deep freeze diving at Woolworths.

Listening to Roach read the book made it even more powerful too.

Read Good Pop, Bad Pop by Jarvis Cocker

What if the things we keep hidden say more about us than those we put on display?

We all have a random collection of the things that made us – photos, tickets, clothes, souvenirs, stuffed in a box, packed in a suitcase, crammed into a drawer. When Jarvis Cocker starts clearing out his loft, he finds a jumble of objects that catalogue his story and ask him some awkward questions:

Who do you think you are?

Are clothes important?

Why are there so many pairs of broken glasses up here?

From a Gold Star polycotton shirt to a pack of Wrigley’s Extra, from his teenage attempts to write songs to the Sexy Laughs Fantastic Dirty Joke Book, this is the hard evidence of Jarvis’s unique life, Pulp, 20th century pop culture, the good times and the mistakes he’d rather forget. And this accumulated debris of a lifetime reveals his creative process – writing and musicianship, performance and ambition, style and stagecraft.

This is not a life story. It’s a loft story.

I listened to Jarvis Cocker’s reading of his book Good Pop, Bad Pop. The book involves the Pulp frontman going through a loft full of objects he had stored there seemingly for a situation like this.

Good Pop, Bad Pop ambles through the 25 years before Saint Martins, tracking Cocker’s worldview as it takes shape in his home city of Sheffield. It opens in the present day, as he’s clearing out the loft of his London house. There is a lot of stuff in there, and each item has a story. His task is to decide whether to keep each thing or “cob” it (throw it out). Mulling over these ancient treasures puts him in philosophical mood, and the book soon expands into both an autobiography and a treatise on pop.

Through tales of buying second hand clothes, the embarrassment of the first gigs and the boredom associated with recovering in hospital, Cocker teases out his creative pathway. This is not to provide a model for how to be the next Pulp or the next Jarvis Cocker, but instead to help others find their own spark, maybe to just keep going.

In some ways, this reminded me of Damian Cowell’s podcast associated with the album Only the Shit You Love. Just as Cocker uses the collection of keep sacks as a jumping off point, Cowell uses the various tracks as a means of conversation. Both have a penchant for the small incidental stories, always wary about getting too Glenn A Baker.

“Conversations” in Jarvis Cocker and the Pulp master plan – ABC ()

Read Nineteen Eighty-Four (dystopian novel written by George Orwell) by Contributors to Wikimedia projects

Nineteen Eighty-Four (also stylised as 1984) is a dystopian social science fiction novel and cautionary tale written by the English writer George Orwell. It was published on 8 June 1949 by Secker & Warburg as Orwell’s ninth and final book completed in his lifetime. Thematically, it centres on the consequences of totalitarianism, mass surveillance and repressive regimentation of people and behaviours within society.[2][3] Orwell, a democratic socialist, modelled the authoritarian state in the novel on Stalinist Russia and Nazi Germany.[2][3][4] More broadly, the novel examines the role of truth and facts within societies and the ways in which they can be manipulated.

While explore Audible, I stumbled upon an Orwell collection read by Stephen Fry.

One of the things that really struck me in this rereading was the use of Emmanuel Goldstein’s book ‘The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism’ to build out the world of 1984. This reminded me of the way in which Raphael Hythloday retells his experience of Utopia in Thomas More’s book. One of the odd consequences of this is that although it is easy to imagine another character living in Eurasia providing a similar recount of life, it feels difficult to understand how any other character might actually respond to this world. For example, how might the novel be different written from O’Brien’s point of view? Or Ampleforth the poet? Is Winston alone in his thoughts? Are there others who actually feel the same way? What do other’s actually feel? Here I am reminded of the paranoia captured in something like Stasiland or The Matrix, but also the modern world of ‘templated selves‘, the world of likes and continuous observation captured in something like The Circle and The Every.

Read 1981 novel by Salman Rushdie by Contributors to Wikimedia projects

Midnight’s Children is a 1981 novel by Indian-British writer Salman Rushdie, published by Jonathan Cape with cover design by Bill Botten, about India’s transition from British colonial rule to independence and partition. It is a postcolonial, postmodern and magical realist story told by its chief protagonist, Saleem Sinai, set in the context of historical events. The style of preserving history with fictional accounts is self-reflexive.

Midnight’s Children sold over one million copies in the UK alone and won the Booker Prize and James Tait Black Memorial Prize in 1981.[1] It was awarded the “Booker of Bookers” Prize and the best all-time prize winners in 1993 and 2008 to celebrate the Booker Prize 25th and 40th anniversary.[2][3][4][5] In 2003 the novel appeared at number 100 on the BBC’s The Big Read poll which determined the UK’s “best-loved novels” of all time.

I remember reading Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children when I was younger. Although I felt I appreciated Rushdie for his skill and style, I think I got lost in awe of the complexity. Recently returning to the novel at a different age, through a different medium – audiobook – I was still in awe, but I also felt that I appreciated it all a bit more (well at least I think I did.) I wonder if my original experience was based on trying to consume the text instead of letting the waves just wash over you? I was also surprised how well the novel lent itself to being read aloud.

Stylistically, the intertwining of the seemingly local within history reminded of Tim Winton’s Cloudstreet. However, I am not sure Cloudstreet is an example of what Linda Hutcheon’s calls ‘historiographic metafiction’.

According to Hutcheon, in “A Poetics of Postmodernism”, works of historiographic metafiction are “those well-known and popular novels which are both intensely self-reflexive and yet paradoxically also lay claim to historical events and personages”.[3]

It was interesting to read Rushdie’s reflection on what he was attempting with the novel.

As a reader, I have always been attracted to capacious, large-hearted fictions, books that try to gather up large armfuls of the world. When I started to think about the work that would grow into Midnight’s Children, I looked again at the great Russian novels of the 19th century, Crime and Punishment, Anna Karenina, Dead Souls, books of the type that Henry James had called “large, loose, baggy monsters,” large-scale realist novels—though, in the case of Dead Souls, on the very edge of surrealism. And at the great English novels of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Tristram Shandy (wildly innovative and by no means realist), Vanity Fair (bristling with sharp knives of satire), Little Dorrit (in which the Circumlocution Office, a government department whose purpose is to do nothing, comes close to magic realism), and Bleak House (in which the interminable court case Jarndyce v Jarndyce comes even closer). And at their great French precursor, Gargantua and Pantagruel, which is completely fabulist. I also had in mind the modern counterparts of these masterpieces, The Tin Drum and One Hundred Years of Solitude, The Adventures of Augie March and Catch-22, and the rich, expansive worlds of Iris Murdoch and Doris Lessing (both too prolific to be defined by any single title, but Murdoch’s The Black Prince and Lessing’s The Making of the Representative from Planet 8 have stayed with me).

Personally, I would love to know the process Rushdie used to write such an intricate novel. It was also interesting how old Rushdie was when he wrote it. As I approach middle age, it is a reminder to keep going.

Marginalia

What had been (at the beginning) no bigger than a full stop had expanded into a comma, a word, a sentence, a paragraph, a chapter; now it was bursting into more complex developments, becoming, one might say, a book-perhaps an encyclopaedia-even a whole language… which is to say that the lump in the middle of my mother grew so large, (Page 139 – 140)

Reality is a question of perspective; the further you get from the past, the more concrete and plausible it seems-but as you approach the present, it inevitably seems more and more incredible (Page 235)

What grows best in the heat: fantasy; unreason; lust. (Page 237)

‘Memory’s truth, because memory has its own special kind. It selects, eliminates, alters, exaggerates, minimizes, glorifies, and vilifies also; but in the end it creates its own reality, its heterogeneous but usually coherent version of events; and no sane human being ever trusts someone else’s version more than his own.'(Page 301)

Scraps of memory: this is not how a climax should be written. A climax should surge towards its Himalayan peak; but I am left with shreds, and must jerk towards my crisis like a puppet with broken strings. This is not what I had planned; but perhaps the story you finish is never the one you begin. (Once, in a blue room, Ahmed Sinai improvised endings for fairy-tales whose original conclusions he had long ago forgotten; the Brass Monkey and I heard, down the years, all kinds of different versions of the journey of Sinbad, and of the adventures of Hatim Tai… if I began again, would I, too, end in a different place?) Well then: I must content myself with shreds and scraps: as I wrote centuries ago, the trick is to fill in the gaps, guided by the few clues one is given. Most of what matters in our lives takes place in our absence; I must be guided by the memory of a once-glimpsed file (Page 618)

The process of revision should be constant and endless; don’t think I’m satisfied with what I’ve done!

I am obliged to offer no more than this stubborn sentence: It happened that way because that’s how it happened. (Page 668)

Read novel by Sylvia Plath by Contributors to Wikimedia projects
Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar has sat on my shelf for years. I was always intrigued by the association with The Catcher in the Rye, but for some reason never actually got around to reading it. Bekir Konakovic and Beth Scussel provide a summary of the comparisons:

The Catcher in the Rye and The Bell Jar, though different in their themes and styles, both  present the coming of age of their characters thoroughly. Though the protagonists of both novels completely contrast each other, they are both put in similar situations through a lack of identity, isolation from society and an absence of purpose in life. The key point of both coming of age tales is expressed through the ultimate idea of growing up and entering the adult world. The central idea of growing up is expressed in both novels through the characters’ struggles in figuring out what they want, understanding and dealing with death, and examining their relationships with their peers, parents and other adults. Both coming of ages are reached once the characters escape their set views and open up to looking at things in a different light from a maturity and sensible aspect of things.

Although both novels are coming of age novels, I feel that Holden Caulfield will never quite seem the same after meeting Esther Greenwood.

Robert McCrum summaries what is essential to the Bell Jar as follows:

Plath’s essential theme, a staccato drumbeat, is Esther’s obsession with the opposite sex. At first, released from her mother’s repressive scrutiny, she decides to lose her virginity (a “millstone around my neck”) to Constantin, a UN Russian translator, but he’s too sensible to fall for her. Then, having failed on another date, in which she is labelled a “slut”, she hurls her clothes off her hotel roof, and returns home for a suicidal summer, a worsening depression which she compares to suffocating under a “bell jar”. Esther’s predicament, more generally, is how to develop a mature identity, as a woman, and to be true to that self rather than conform to societal norms. It’s this quest that makes The Bell Jar a founding text of Anglo-American feminism.

Associated with this, Naomi Elias discusses the myth around Plath and the novel:

Though The Bell Jar traffics in many themes, including classism, sexism, and mental illness, it has become synonymous with depressed and/or moody women. On film and television specifically, it has become a popular visual and textual prop to code an exclusively female experience of sadness.

Let alone Plath as the person.

Marginalia

How could I write about life when I’d never had a love affair or a baby or even seen anybody die? A girl I knew had just won a prize for a short story about her adventures among the pygmies in Africa. How could I compete with that sort of thing? Page 125

My mother smiled. “I knew my baby wasn’t like that.” I looked at her. “Like what?” “Like those awful people. Those awful dead people at that hospital.” She paused. “I knew you’d decide to be all right again.” Page 148

To the person in the bell jar, blank and stopped as a dead baby, the world itself is the bad dream. Page 231

Read 1516 book by Thomas More by Contributors to Wikimedia projects
I was inspired to reread Thomas More’s Utopia after reading Dave Eggers’ The Every. A part of me wondered if it was how I remembered it from twenty years ago. It was how I remembered it, but then I read Susan Bruce’s introduction to Three Early Modern Utopias and I discovered that there was much more to More’s text than I appreciated.

Bruce explores the many ways More’s text has been interpreted over time:

The text has generated diametrically opposed interpretations from its critics, ranging from the dubious claim that Utopia describes a real historical community to the assertion that it is only a literary game; and from readings which maintain that it is a vision of an ideal Catholic society to those which see it as a proto-Communist text.

Discusses utopian texts in general, she makes the connection between the fictional creations and the exploration of the New World. Although More’s text is sometimes construed as an ideal, it is not clear that this is what More was trying to achieve. This is something Terry Eagleton captures in his reflection on utopias:

Not all More’s proposals would delight the heart of Jeremy Corbyn. The perfection of his utopia is not tarnished in his view by the fact that it contains slaves. On certain festive days wives would fall down at their husbands’ feet, confessing that they have performed some domestic duty negligently. Adultery would be punished by the strictest form of slavery. One should recall that More, far from being the liberal-cum-existentialist portrayed in Robert Bolt’s play A Man for All Seasons, showed not the slightest compunction in torturing and executing heretics. In choosing one’s mate, men should be allowed to see their prospective wives naked, since who wants goods that aren’t on show? Feminists, however, should note that women would enjoy the same prerogative. Brothels would be abolished, but so would alehouses. There would be no lawyers (a generous-hearted proposal, since More was one himself), but no tolerance for those who waste time, either.

The other worldliness of the utopias served as a critique of the dominant ideology, often They often capturing what these societies are not. More’s Utopia is probably best appreciated as a provocation written to promote further debate.

For a different approach to utopians in general, Tom Hodgkinson unpacks the history of utopias before and after More’s Utopia.

Read novel by Charles Dickens by Contributors to Wikimedia projects

Bleak House is a novel by Charles Dickens, first published as a 20-episode serial between March 1852 and September 1853. The novel has many characters and several sub-plots, and is told partly by the novel’s heroine, Esther Summerson, and partly by an omniscient narrator. At the centre of Bleak House is a long-running legal case in the Court of Chancery, Jarndyce and Jarndyce, which comes about because a testator has written several conflicting wills. In a preface to the 1853 first edition, Dickens claimed there were many actual precedents for his fictional case.[1] One such was probably the Thellusson v Woodford case in which a will read in 1797[2] was contested and not determined until 1859. Though many in the legal profession criticised Dickens’s satire as exaggerated, this novel helped support a judicial reform movement which culminated in the enactment of legal reform in the 1870s.[3]

There is some debate among scholars as to when Bleak House is set. The English legal historian Sir William Holdsworth sets the action in 1827;[4] however, reference to preparation for the building of a railway in Chapter LV suggests the 1830s.

I succumbed to Amazon and signed up to two months of Audible. One of my discoveries was the classic texts that were freely available. I understand that Librivox provides free readings of classics, but these exclusive productions are professionally read. I chose Bleak House as it was read by Miriam Margolyes. Sadly, even with Margolyes’, I just got too lost in the story and abandoned it.

Marginalia

Of course there’s nothing new about Dickens being able to create wonderful characters. The difference here is that, while Harold Skimpole, Mr Tulkinghorn, Krook et al fizz with bright particularity, their job is to service the story – in Dickens’s earlier novels the endless cameos tend to derail the narrative. Bleak House represents the author at a perfectly poised late-middle moment in his extraordinary art.

Read 2008 science fiction novel by by Contributors to Wikimedia projects

The Three-Body Problem (Chinese: 三体; lit. ‘Three-Body’; pinyinsān tǐ) is a science fiction novel written by the Chinese writer Liu Cixin. The title refers to the three-body problem in orbital mechanics. It is the first novel of the Remembrance of Earth’s Past (Chinese: 地球往事) trilogy, but the whole series is normally referred to as The Three-Body Problem.[1] The trilogy’s second and third novels are The Dark Forest and Death’s End respectively.

The first volume of The Three-Body Problem was first serialized in Science Fiction World between May and December 2006.[2] It was published as a standalone book in 2008, becoming one of the most successful Chinese science fiction novels of the last two decades.[3] The novel received the Chinese Science Fiction Yinhe (“Galaxy“) Award in 2006[4] along with many more over the years. By 2015, a Chinese film adaptation of the same name was in production.

The English translation by Ken Liu was published by Tor Books in 2014.[5] Thereafter, it became the first Asian novel ever to win a Hugo Award for Best Novel,[6][7] and was nominated for the Nebula Award for Best Novel.[8]

The series portrays a future where, in the first book, Earth encounters an alien civilisation in a nearby star system that consists of three solar-type stars orbiting each other in an unstable three-body system.

The Three-Body Problem is one of those novels that takes on new meaning as each layer is revealed. It has a lot to say about science, culture and progress.

The odd thing is that the less practical your research is, the more they’re afraid of you—like abstract theories, the kind of thing Yang Dong worked on. They are more frightened of such work than you are of the universe winking at you. That’s why they’re so ruthless. If killing you would solve the problem, you’d all be dead by now. But the most effective technique remains disrupting your thoughts. When a scientist dies, another will take his place. But if his thoughts are confused, then science is over.” (Page 125)

In the end I was left feeling incredibly small and rather insignificant.

Read Barracuda

Fourteen-year-old Daniel Kelly is special. Despite his upbringing in working-class Melbourne, he knows that his astonishing ability in the swimming pool has the potential to transform his life. Everything Danny has ever done, every sacrifice his family has ever made, has been in pursuit of this dream–but what happens when the talent that makes you special fails you? When the goal that you’ve been pursuing for as long as you can remember ends in humiliation and loss?

Twenty years later, Dan is in Scotland, terrified to tell his partner about his past, afraid that revealing what he has done will make him unlovable. Haunted by shame, Dan relives the intervening years he spent in prison, where the optimism of his childhood was completely foreign.

Although I had seen and enjoyed the television adaptations of both The Slap and Barracuda, I had never actually read any of Christos Tsiolkas’ novels. I was partly inspired after listening to Tsiolkas in conversation with Waleed Aly and Scott Stephens, also Barracuda was the only novel available on Libro.fm.

The novel revolves around Daniel Kelly, the son of working class Scots-Irish and Greek parents who gains a scholarship to a prodigious private school because of his swimming abilities, but fails to make it to the Olympics.

Where The Slap had an ensemble cast and Tolstoy-esque ambitions — it sought to render the whole milieu of the multiethnic, suburban Melbourne that is Tsiolkas’s heartland — Barracuda trains its sights firmly on Danny Kelly. Even so, all the characters are vividly drawn.

Mark Lawson on language:

Tsiolkas’s sometimes startling dialogue is part of his mission – along with explicit descriptions of urination, defecation and ejaculation – to set down the texture of how people really live and speak. His characters have a visceral credibility rare in fiction.

There is something strangely engaging about this novel in the way that the problem is referenced early on, the rest of the time we bounce between a before and after, piecing things together. For me, every choice that Dan Kelly makes comes with its own set of consequences. Although we get some sort of resolution in the end, when Kelly gives a gift back to his family, this does not necessarily remedy all of life’s ills, nor does it break free of the restraints placed on us by society.